2016 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

Welsh secretary Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired give a feminine spin to WWII propaganda films churned out by Britain's morale-boosting Ministry of Information. However, she finds herself fighting on all fronts against her shifty artist husband (Jack Huston), sexist ministry suits and a bunch of theatrical luvvies. One bright spot is fellow scribe Tom (Sam Claflin) and then she gets a chance to shine with a dramatisation of a true story of two sisters saving lives at the Dunkirk evacuation. Exquisite celebration of the British stiff upper lip.

Director

  • Lone Scherfig

Cast

  • Gemma Arterton

  • Sam Claflin

  • Bill Nighy

  • Jack Huston

  • Paul Ritter

  • Rachael Stirling

  • Richard E Grant

Review

The dark wartime days of the Blitz were a time when your country needed everyone...including women whose roles hitherto were to keep house and know their place.

With their men at the Front, a massive social re-engineering took place, putting girls behind the wheels of ambulances, working on the land and - in the case of Catrin Cole (Arterton), a former newspaper copywriter, - bashing out "slop" for the propaganda films churned out by the Ministry of Information.

Catrin - a Welsh girl new to London - needs the cash as her dour artist husband (Huston) earns just pennies but things look up when she's asked to put together a Mrs Miniver-style film about two sisters who helped the evacuation at Dunkirk.

She's paired with grumpy screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and is forced to fight her corner against his patronising attitude and the petty politics of the cast, particularly gone-to-seed thesp Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy playing Bill Nighy).

However, as the importance of the project becomes apparent (work is routinely disrupted by bombing raids) Tom and Catrin grow closer and differences are put aside as the Nazi threat gets bigger.

Like the recent Dad's Army remake but with a sharper edge, this adaptation of Lissa Evans' novel finds the perfect interpreter in Danish director Lone Sherfig, who brings the same keen understanding of the source material she did to An Education.

Arterton goes from strength to strength as the loyal but conflicted young woman given the chance to shine during the darkest days and her role is nicely balanced against Nighy's whingeing luvvie wheeling out the same old schtick...but doing it so well. 

The atmosphere of threat leavened by a never-say-die optimism  is subtly conveyed and a superb ensemble cast all pull their emotional weight around the leads.

It's the finest two hours you'll spend in the cinema this summer.

Tim Evans