Their Finest

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Their Finest

With Their Finest, Gaby Chiappe and director Lone Sherfig have created a superb dream of a long ago time. Against the backdrop of England under attack in 1940, they show us the British living their daily lives calmly, interrupted repeatedly by air raid sirens that send them to underground shelter. At the center of it all is actor Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole who carries the story with absolute calm and sharp intelligence.

In this dark time of the German air raids, a group of writers gathers each day to make movies to aid the war effort. What can they do, they wonder aloud, to help lure America into the war at just the time when the battle of Dunkirk has told Britain they are not strong enough to win the war against the Nazis.

They will make a movie about Dunkirk. Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), the aging matinee idol whose ego grows more fragile in the face of anyone else’s success, is temperamental but determined. He and Buckley (Sam Claflin) hire Catrin (Gemma Arterton) to do secretarial jobs that will free them to write. Repeatedly, Catrin delivers several pages at a time that convince them she must be the main writer with Buckley.

Catrin upends the whole challenge by wanting to write about the roles women are playing in the war rather than focusing on heroes – “A lot of men are scared we won’t go back into our boxes when this is over” she says with great foresight. After the near catastrophe of Dunkirk, the challenge is how to lure America into the war. With 90 million Americans watching movies, she says, “we need a story to inspire a nation.”

Making their movie is the core of the plot but something much deeper than that sinks into those of us who are watching. We are silenced in admiration at their skill in creating time and place. Even the relationship developing between Carin and Buckley is minor next to the portrait they paint of London under daily bombings.

The moment the sirens start, Londoners leave homes and jobs quietly for their nearby shelters where they sit in silent acceptance until the all clear sends them back to work and home. We see the awful damage after each bombing and feel the impending loss of their country. We think again about Churchill’s prolonged visit to F.D.R. that was so key to America’s entry into the war. What would have happened without that visit?

This is a fine movie made compelling by texture. We feel the dark gray atmosphere, the silence created by fear, a capital destroyed by bombs, a leader determined to get help and a handful of sharp portraits of determination to survive. It stays with us because it is so quietly and carefully imagined by fine writers and actors and a director who knew exactly how to salute the quiet bravery of a city under attack more than seventy years ago.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Their Finest
Word Count : 498
Running time : 1:50
Rating : R
Date : August 13, 2017


The Midwife

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Midwife

The Midwife opens with a series of births in the hands of solemn, accomplished Claire who is dedicated to her profession and to the clinic that is her workplace. Actor Catherine Frot learned the trade for this role in the interest of reality. Most countries have a protective time limit on filming newborns that means the new babies we have seen on film were usually more than three months old. This is the real deal.

In addition to introducing us to Claire in her profession, the long scene of live births suggests that each of these newborns will grow up to lead different lives in families that grow as they grow. This is how their lives began and the story of the family they become.

Within minutes we learn that outside of the clinic Claire lives a healthy, if reclusive life. She rides her bike to and from work, dislikes alcohol, grows and eats healthy vegetables in her backyard, and works at something she believes in deeply. The sad part for her is that her clinic is slated to be closed by a modern hospital.

Claire’s earnest world is pierced suddenly by an invitation from Beatrice (Catherine Deneuve) who was once mistress to Claire’s father and eventually left him. Would she meet for lunch? For Claire, that’s an invitation from Hell.

Beatrice left Caire’s father because she couldn’t stand the dullness of living in the country. And we soon learn why. “How come there’s no fun in your life?” she asks Claire, and answers her own question: “I believe in the power of pleasure.” And then, suddenly, we learn Beatrice has brain cancer and has come to her former lover’s daughter for help.

As the two of them begin to learn from each other’s wildly different selves, Claire slowly begins to open to a wider world by letting herself know Paul (Oliver Gourmet), the friendly neighbor she sees while they garden in the backyard. Beatrice gains strength from Claire’s new fidelity. This story would have paled in lesser hands.

Catherine Frot creates an earnest woman with deep integrity whose only love is her fine work of delivering babies. Catherine Deneuve’s Beatrice drinks, gambles, and thrives on the bustle of the city and uncertainty. She paints a vivid portrait of a woman devoted to risk, fun, and pleasure of all kinds.

This movie is the story of the unlikely journey toward friendship between a dying lover of life and a living lover of work. Each gives to the other while Beatrice opens Claire’s eyes to the possibility of Paul (Oliver Gourmet), the fine man who would make either woman happy for different reasons.

Martin Provost, wrote and directed the story and worked with the two grand actors to create a relationship that teaches each woman a lot about herself. It is the delicacy of their acting that is so remarkable here. They take us on that journey and they do it with rare grace.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Midwife
Word Count : 501
Running time : 1:57
Rating : nr
Date : July 23


This review was posted on July 30, 2017, in Drama.