** (out of 4)
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
If there’s just one thing Danish-born director Lone Scherfig wants you to take away from Their Finest, her new movie about a (fictitious) woman named Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who scripts a “morale-boosting” film for the British public during World War II, it’s that movies, above all else, are an escape. You get a first inkling of this notion when Catrin’s screenwriting colleague, a sharp, somewhat arrogant man named Tom (Sam Clafin), abruptly bursts into a nostalgic monologue on how life, unlike film, doesn’t have “structure” or “purpose.” The events that follow – right after the two of them first kiss, he dies in front of her eyes when a large crate falls on him – only hammer the point in further. And by the end, as we see moviegoers cry in a theater and a final image of Catrin happily working at her screenwriter desk, the self-serving, Sullivan’s Travels-esque message of the story has been all but firmly implanted in your brain: life is cruel, and the world of cinema is the best way to deal with the pain.
How ironic, then, that Their Finest itself turns out to be anything but a pleasant, painkilling escape.