From director Lone Scherfig and adapted from the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, the romantic drama Their Finest is set in the midst of the devastating Second World War, when movies became a crucial outlet to raise the spirits of the nation during wartime. Catrin Col (Gemma Arterton) is employed to write female dialogue, referred to as “slop” by her male co-writers, for original British Ministry of Information propaganda feature films with fellow screenwriter Buckley (Sam Claflin), and as the two work together, they realize that there can be just as much passion behind the camera as there is on screen.
During this phone interview with Collider, co-stars Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy (who plays the self-absorbed but charismatic thespian, Ambrose Hilliard, whose days of being a romantic lead are well behind him) talked about what attracted them to Their Finest, the story’s feeling of nostalgia, learning to work on a typewriter, how dreamy it was to work with co-star Gemma Arterton, and why people love the collective experience of watching movies. Claflin also talked about My Cousin Rachel and the experience of working with Rachel Weisz, while Nighy talked about playing a very nice man in The Bookshop, opposite Emily Mortimer.
Collider: What was it about this script that made you want to be a part of telling this story and playing this character?
BILL NIGHY: To be honest, it was triggered by the prospect of working with (director) Lone Scherfig. That was my initial enthusiasm. And then, when I read the script, it was a wonderful script full of humor and humanity, which appealed to me. It was also something that I’m interested in. I’m interested in making movies and I’m interested in that period. People in the U.K. have a very specific nostalgia for that time, and I thought it beautifully expressed the details of how people’s lives were, during that time, and the general feeling, and how people can remain compassionate in truly dangerous times, rather than like compassion during strategically invented dangerous times. It’s a timely movie, in that respect. But, the script was very attractive.
SAM CLAFLIN: For me, personally, I’d been fortunate enough to work with Lone Scherfig, and she approached me with this script. After having such an incredible experience with her before, I knew that no matter what she gave me, I would happily jump aboard. Honestly, I fell in love with the script. I thought it was a really unique war story, set around a very poignant part of our history, but with an insight into a world that I wasn’t overly familiar with, with filmmaking at that time. I loved the beautifully poetic love story between Buckley and Catrin, and also the humor that Ambrose Hilliard brought. So, it ticked every box for me, really. And Gemma [Arterton] was already attached and I’d always wanted to work with her. It was a no-brainer.
This film has an almost fairy tale quality to it, while being set in the middle of a war, and it explores humor and tragedy in a very real, very relatable way. Was that clearly evident, when you read the script, or did that come out of fine turning during the shoot?
CLAFLIN: I thought it was all there, laid out in the text and the story, and even in the novel, which obviously came first. The world that was created and the rhythm and musicality that the script had felt almost like a musical. It felt quite uplifting and hopeful, and light and airy. It felt humorous and also quite nostalgic. It felt like a film of the time, and there’s something quite original about that. I think La La Land did it very similarly, in that it has that bounce in its step. As much as I don’t sing songs – Bill does – I felt really drawn to the musicality of it. You can’t ask for more, really.
Bill, what sort of research or preparation did you do, when it came to getting into the head of the character, in this world and during this time period?
NIGHY: One of the refreshing things about reaching my age is that, when I was younger, I would pretend and be vague about possible research I might have done. But when you ask me about how much research I did for this movie, the answer is none, whatsoever. I’m lucky to work, for the most part, at a level of writing where all of the information I need is contained within the script. Honestly, if there was something in the way that I walk or talk that I had to research, I would have researched it, or if there was something about the character’s occupation. But for the most part, I read the script and, in this case, I was blessed with a great director who could put me straight, if I went wrong.
Could you identify with your character’s struggle of wanting certain roles while people are trying to push you into other roles, whether it’s because of your age or some other specific reason?
NIGHY: Well, yeah, sure. When I read the script, I wanted Sam’s part, and then they offered me this other part. No, I’m kidding. When I was about 40, I took a phone call from my agent in England who said, “Hamlet, darling. It’s a tour, and it’s 18 months. It’s Moscow and Tokyo, it will be marvelous.” I said, “I don’t want to play Hamlet.” She said, “Oh, no, not Hamlet, darling, Claudius. You realize that you’re now Hamlet’s uncle.” Once you get passed that particular watershed, it’s plain sailing.