by Gaby Chiappe (screenplay) and Lissa Evans (based on the novel "Their Finest Hour and a Half" by)
Their Finest is a British movie that had limited release in the USA. If, like me, you missed it in theaters, you can see it now on iTunes. This movie is slow and matter-of-fact but it snuck up on me and had me bawling my eyes out by the end. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but due to a plot development near the end and a significant amount of tragedy it’s better described as a drama. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but here’s one I know none of you will mind:
There are two dogs in the movie, and they both end up fine. One of them ends up adopted by a strict but fond Helen McCory. We should all be so lucky.
Their Finest is a movie about a woman who makes a movie. Catrin, played by Gemma Arterton, gets a job helping to write a propaganda film (The Nancy Starling) in London during the Blitz. She’s supposed to provide the women’s touch on a film that, by order of the government, is to broadcast a sense of “authenticity and optimism.” Her co-worker, Buckley, is cynical and sexist but also very good at making a coherent story out of almost anything.
Buckley is played by Sam Claflin. Sam is one of the prettiest men ever to live, and as an actor he has perfected the art of wordlessly broadcasting intense and unrequited longing. It’s a relief that he spends the movie under an unfortunate, though period appropriate, mustache, as otherwise I would have spent the entire movie staring at him in a trance. He’s sardonic and bitter and funny and horrible and has fantastic chemistry with Gemma Atherton.
Gemma plays Catrin, our heroine, and she is simply perfect. Whether she’s standing perfectly still or walking and talking very quickly across a set, she simultaneously broadcasts vulnerability and steeliness. In keeping with all opposites-attract type romances, Catrin and Buckley constantly look like they can’t decide whether to strangle one another or just start ripping off each other’s clothes in the middle of the office.
Back to the plot: Catrin meets middle-aged twin sisters, Rose and Lily, who took part in the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk. They stole their drunken father’s boat, but never made it to Dunkirk because the engine gave out. They got a tow home from a bigger ship and took some of the soldiers from that (overcrowded) ship. One had a dog in his kit bag, and another, who was French, tried to kiss Lily.
Catrin brings this story, minus a few details, to the movie people, who are thrilled. “It has authenticity, optimism, AND A DOG!” one of them crows. Soon she and Buckley are writing non-stop as the Rose and Lily of The Nancy Starling become pretty young women, their abusive drunk father becomes a funny drunk uncle, a fictional love triangle forms around the fictional Rose, and the dog has a stirring action scene.
There’s just so much to unpack in this movie, which is quiet and slow (at about two hours, it felt like more) and restrained in the most British way but which tackles sexism, the war, grief, friendship between women, the creative process, the art and business of making movies, and some very nice hats. Helen McCrory does what she always does, namely takes a small role and simply walks away with the movie entirely. Bill Nighy promises Catrin that “Between you and I, we’ll have them weeping in the aisles” and then delivers on that promise. The whole cast has a chemistry which manages to progress from mass antagonism to a sense of comfortable familiarity. The actors who play actors combine certain narcissism with real warmth. When Bill Nighy sings a song with the line, “Will ye go lassie, go/and we’ll all go together,” to the cast, they feel like a real family, truly at ease with one another, and truly comforted during dangerous times by each other’s company.
Throughout is presence of war. Although this film is very funny in a deadpan way, I was surprised to see how many people have described it as a romantic comedy. It doesn’t have a romantic comedy ending, and anything funny transpires against a terrifying background. At one point Catrin has to literally step over corpses to get to her flat. “I’ll be alright after a cup of tea,” she tells her husband, only to be informed that the water main is out, a development that even the stoic Catrin cannot tolerate with equanimity. The making of The Nancy Starling is serious business that might affect the course of the war, and the war takes such a toll that at one point they fear that they’ve run out of enough people to finish it.
Towards the end of the movie, something happens that could make the viewer feel cheated. I felt shocked and sad, but not cheated, and here’s why:
- The movie takes the time to follow through the ramifications of the event.
- An arc has, for all intents and purposes, been resolved.
- The movie has been hinting all along that all kinds of unforeseen events can and do happen, whether they be the result of bombs, guns, or, in one character’s case, being hit by a tram while on leave. Death is sudden and arbitrary. This is a theme all throughout the movie so when it causes a sudden tonal and plot twist, it feel both shocking and inevitable.
This movie was marketed as a romantic comedy, and up to a point it has the structure of one – very attractive people, the unappreciative husband, the witty banter, the chemistry, opposites attracting, etc. However, one of the running themes of the movie is that the movie within the movie keeps having different agendas and themes tacked on to it. The Nancy Starling is an action movie and a war movie, it’s a love story, it has comedy and tragedy, it’s meant to inspire America to join the war, and it’s meant to motivate the British to keep fighting. That’s not even a complete list of all the jobs that the poor Nancy Starling is expected to do. Through the writing of this film, Catrin is insistent that the film is, at its core, the story of Lily and Rose.
Similarly, Their Finest is marketed as a romantic comedy, but at its core it’s not the story of one couple or another. It’s consistently Catrin’s story. This means that while many characters undergo significant arcs, Catrin’s arc is the only one that matters and…
The movie is also an ode to the women who kept Britain running during the war. They are paid less than men, they are resented and feared by men, and yet they are expected to manage the impossible. When Catrin finally goes to a screening of The Nancy Starling, she sits by an older woman who weeps copiously through the movie and explains that she’s seen it five times. “It’s our picture isn’t it?” she says, patting Catrin on the hand, “They’re our girls.”
I cried like a baby.
I almost titled this episode, “Same Library, Different Tastes.” While having dinner the other night, I was talking to Adam, my excellent spouse, about a series he was reading, and I realized we hardly ever talk about what he’s reading. I’ll go on for hours about what I’m reading (and I have!) but unless I’m asking him if he’d enjoy a book I just found, he doesn’t talk much about what he reads, and he reads a lot. So he made cocktails and I handed him a microphone, and we talked about it.
We don’t like any of the same things, but we both love reading. So I asked questions about his favorite series, books he’s enjoyed that I’ve successfully recommended (YES!), and what makes a narrative world appealing. Adam likes to read fantasy, and he loves never-ending world building and deep nerdy dives into back story, so he’s a very avid and engaged reader. But he keeps most of it in his head. So I ask him nosy questions about that. We also discuss series and trilogies he loves, including Game of Thrones, Libriomancer, The Inheritance Trilogy, and a lot more – expect a big list of books.Listen to the podcast →
Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
And if you’d like to try it, here’s a recipe for Bee’s Knees, my new favorite cocktail.
And! The RWA Signing! July 29, 2017, from 3:00 – 5:00pm!
Hundreds of romance authors in one place, and all proceeds of book sales go to literacy organizations. Some of your favorite authors are likely to be there, like Alyssa Cole, Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Julie James, Cecilia Tan, Beverly Jenkins, and Jill Shalvis. And, for the first time, I’ll be signing, too – yay!
The signing is at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Pacific Hall. Saturday, July 29th from 3-5pm. And if you come and find me (I’m in the Ws near the cashiers) and mention the podcast, I have a special sticker for you – if you’d like one.
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Thanks for listening!
This Episode's Music
Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.
This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “La Caravane.”
This episode is brought to you by Too Scot to Handle by Grace Burrowes. This New York Times bestselling series with its “heartfelt emotions, humor and realistic, honest characters [is] a fan favorite,” raves RT Book Reviews.
In this second book of the Windham Brides series, Burrowes delights Regency romance readers once again with an irresistible rough-around-the-edges Scot who takes on saving an orphanage to win over the fiery, intelligent woman who captures his heart.
As a captain in the army, Colin MacHugh led men, fixed what was broken, and fought hard. Now that he’s a titled gentleman, he’s still fighting-this time to keep his bachelorhood safe from all the marriage-minded debutantes. Then he meets the intriguing Miss Anwen Windham, whose demure nature masks a bonfire waiting to roar to life. When she asks for his help to raise money for the local orphanage, he’s happy to oblige.
Anwen is amazed at how quickly Lord Colin takes in hand a pack of rambunctious orphan boys. Amazed at how he actually listens to her ideas. Amazed at the thrill she gets from the rumble of his Scottish burr and the heat of his touch. But not everyone enjoys the success of an upstart. And Colin has enemies who will stop at nothing to ruin him and anybody he holds dear.
As Tessa Dare puts it, “Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure.” Don’t miss Too Scot to Handle, on sale wherever books are sold this Tuesday, July 25th.
Our podcast transcript is being brought to you by When It’s Real by #1 New York Times bestselling author Erin Watt.
A pop star. A regular girl. The world’s watching…
Wealth, fame and a real-life romance she never expected—seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett lands it all when she agrees to become a pop star’s fake girlfriend in this smart, utterly addictive novel.
School Library Journal calls it “a fast-paced, ‘he said, she said’ page-turner.” Kirkus Reviews writes: When It’s Real is “undeniable fun” and “a quintessential beach read.” You’ll fall head-over-heels in love with this electrifying and addictive new romance.
Under ordinary circumstances, Oakley Ford and Vaughn Bennett would never even cross paths.
There’s nothing ordinary about Oakley. This bad-boy pop star’s got Grammy awards, millions of fangirls and a reputation as a restless, too-charming troublemaker. But with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley needs to show the world he’s settling down—and who better to help him than Vaughn, a part-time waitress trying to help her family get by? The very definition of ordinary.
Posing as his girlfriend, Vaughn will overhaul Oakley’s image from troublemaker to serious artist. In return for enough money to put her brothers through college, she can endure outlandish Hollywood parties and carefully orchestrated Twitter exchanges. She’ll fool the paparazzi and the groupies. She might even start fooling herself a little.
Because when ordinary rules no longer apply, there’s no telling what your heart will do…
You can find When It’s Real wherever books are sold.
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it got bad enough this weekend that I couldn't sleep and my abdominal muscles started locking up after the violence of the spasmodic coughing.
never again will I wait so long before seeking help.
One: I have two kinds of bronchial inhalers, I will use BOTH, I will remember that I HAVE both and will use both when I start getting in trouble.
Two: one night of no-sleep is the dealbreaker now. One night, then get the doctor.
Three: try and figure out wtf is the problem with my head (I know, my mom was like this too) that makes it so I'd rather harm myself literally than perceive that I was disappointing other people.
Four: the doctor is there to help preserve your health and life. they're not put out when you go to see them with an actual problem, and if they are, then you need to see another doctor.
Five: crowdsourcing your health advice is a not-horrible option when you have people who actually do give a shit about you and not just posting clever quips. (My friends DO give a shit, I've seen other people get much less helpful comments, the bastards)
Six: saying I CAN'T BREATHE WELL if true, is an excellent way to get taken seriously with my HMO.
Seven: My HMO did good work again, I'm just saying.
Eight: it's time to write down all the meds I'm taking and when, so I can make sure to take ALL OF THEM (I forgot to do the inhalers till well around dinner time and it wasn't very fun.
Nine: More water, more hydration, and I want to go pick up some of that guaifenisin stuff to add to the regimen; and I need to get more sleep.
10: I'll be done with the antibiotics by this time next week but I need to keep using the inhalers through the first week of August (21 days since onset, minimum)
Ten things make a list, ergo a blog post. Sorry this is boring, glad I'm not dead (or suffering like I was before).
So I've spent a couple days trying to nudge the question from the side, trying to consider songs that I think of as heartbreaky without sending myself into a downward spiral that could take weeks to recover from.
Today doesn't get a list, and it doesn't get a video. mdlbear posted that Jordin Kare has died.
I remember one filksong from my first year at BayCon - Leslie Fish's "Banned from Argo," sung in the back corner of a party room by four people sharing a copy of Westerfilk. The next year, I went looking. I remember one song from my second year - Jordin Kare singing "The Bride of Saint-Germain."
I wrote about this before. Bride of Saint-Germain has, as far as I know, never been recorded. It's certainly never been publicly released. And now, no matter how well the OTW does in its struggles to get fanworks accepted as fair use, no matter what kind of precedents vidders win from congress... he's never going to record even one of the fannish concert versions that sometimes make their way to Youtube.
I loved Jordin's music; I have both Fire in the Sky and Parody Violation and I can sing along with all of them, even if I don't quite know all the words. The song that breaks my heart is the one I'll never hear again.