Lone Scherfig’s adaptation of Lissa Evans’ better-titled novel Their Finest Hour and a Half, set in London during the early days of World War II, is as polite, charming, and English as its star Gemma Arterton, who sails through the chaos and calamity with the good sense, pluck, and grace of a motherly angel. (The bomb blasts are muffled, so as not to distract from the delicate register of emotions, and a gauzy haze tends to obscure the various bodies.) The sly wit of the story is there from the first, as our heroine enters the man’s world of wartime screenwriting by stepping her way through a maze of swollen fire hoses. Once there, she snags a gig writing women’s dialogue — “slop,” in the parlance of her embittered but empathetic boss Buckley (Sam Claflin) — for a ginned-up account of twin sisters taking part in the evacuation of Dunkirk. The story sails along without a ripple, even as relationships fray and peripheral characters die — until art and life start to blur and the melodrama slips off the screen and into Arterton’s heart. Bill Nighy comes nigh unto stealing the show as an aging actor who makes the most of his bit as a drunken uncle.
Length: 1 hour, 50 minutes