Set in Britain during the Second World War, Their Finest centres on a young woman named Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who is hired to write morale boosting films for the Ministry of Information.
It’s hard to define this film into one category, it’s a behind the scenes drama with some comedic elements and insights into the way women’s roles were changing during this period. Small moments of sexism are all in a normal working day for Catrin as she hired to write ‘slop’ (women’s dialogue). Rather than this being an ‘issue’ film these elements are woven naturally into the story and it’s a fascinating insight into the work behind these propaganda and moral boosting films. I can imagine there are scenes that scriptwriters are all too familiar with such as producers making changes to the script or finding out their American lead (Jake Lacey) can’t act. These scenes are much more engaging than the sub plot with Catrin’s artist husband (Jack Houston) which feels a bit by the numbers.
Director Lone Scherfig brings the 40’s to life without hitting us over the heads with it, and captures the confusion and panic of living through the Blitz whilst its characters have to get on with everyday matters like finding work. She also brings out the best from her cast. Arterton is a sympathetic and likeable lead who can easily go between comedy and drama and has good chemistry with Sam Clafin as her co-writer Tom Buckley, who is sometimes infuriated and also infatuated with Catrin. As always Bill Nighy is great as an actor who still wants to be cast as the handsome lead despite his age. He steals scenes with his comedic one liners but is also poignant in some of the more sombre scenes.
Rating 4/5 – a great British drama that’s a welcome relief for anyone who wants a break from the blockbusters
When I think of British zombie movies my first thought immediately goes to Egdar Wright’s brilliant comedy-horror Shaun of the Dead. The Girl with All the Gifts promises a completely different tone as well as a new spin on the well-worn genre. But is it any good?
Melanie is not your average girl. Her and her classmates are kept in an underground bunker where armed soldiers restrain them in wheelchairs when they attend class. It’s the near future where a fungal infection has wiped out most of civilisation and turned the infected into mindless ‘hungries’ who eat human flesh. As Melanie and the other children are a particular hybrid the scientists hope to observe them in order to save humanity. All of this is put at risk when a large group of hungries attack the base and Melanie finds herself with a small group of survivors struggling to find a safe haven.
You may be sick of zombie movies or dystopia futures but The Girl with All the Gifts is a pleasant addition to both genres. I have not read the 2014 book of the same name so I don’t know how faithful this adaptation is, but I was enthralled by the world that was created. The fungal infection is a interesting take on the zombie bite (and the inspiration behind it is terrifying in itself). It’s a bleak future and not exactly a laugh a minute but there’s also warmth and small bits of hope to found.
What also makes The Girl with All the Gifts stand out is that it does away with the simple humans good/zombies bad routine. The humans are a mixed bunch and their motivations are complicated, showing all sides have a point regarding how Melanie should be treated. Having a talented cast like Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close also helps make you care for the characters. Melanie herself is also played brilliantly by newcomer Sennia Nanua, who whilst being very sympathetic, still provides a believable threat to the other members of the group.
The film manages to pose moral questions regarding Melanie and her fate while also ensuring that the film works as horror. The attack on the base is thrilling to watch and a scene where the group have to quietly get pass a huge crowd of unstimulated hungries is full of tension in it’s execution. And horror fans should be please to note there’s also plenty of blood and gore to satisfy along with the emotional weight.
Rating 4/5 – a grounded and intense look at the zombie apocalypse and the moral quandaries it brings
It seems you can’t go anywhere nowadays without a new film/tv/book/whatever being added to the vampire franchise. Going for more grown up fare than the Twilight/Vampire Dairies is this 2013 British film directed by Neil Jordan whose had previous with the vampire genre 20 years ago with Interview With The Vampire.
Mother and daughter vampires Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) have been surviving by themselves for two hundred years. While mum Clara makes money the only way she knows how-stripping and prostituting, eternal teenager Eleanor longs to tell her story and not be always on the run in order to hide their secret. They arrive in a seaside town which Eleanor recognises from their past. Soon they are not only trying to cover their backs with the local townspeople but also from the haunting figures of their past.
The characterisation of the two women are strong. Clara is a someone whose been forced into horrible situations and uses her cunning and survival instrincts to help her and her daughter survive. You’re never exactly sure what Clara is thinking and whether she cares for human life at all or whether they are just a means to an end. Her daughter Eleanor is more empathetic and only kills those who are looking to die. She is also desperate to tell someone about who she really is, repeatedly writting down her life story and then ripping it to pieces.
As with Neil Jordan’s previous works there is a great sense of atmosphere and distrubing visuals which are somehow mesmarising at the same time. Scenes such as Clare being bathed in river of bloods in the cliffs for example are both disturbing and sensual. There is also great acting from the two leads as well as the supporting cast. Jonny Lee Miller in particular makes for a thoroughly discpicable villian and Sam Riley is interesting as one of the more nicer vampires looking for Clara.
The movie does attempt to have some original features. The vampires don’t have fangs but grow an enlarged fingernail instead to cut their victim’s skins. The way they turn into vampires also involves some weird island and a cave. Overall though in spite of these features I woudn’t say that Byzantium is the most striking or memorable vampire film I’ve seen, although its probably one of the better acted.
Some of the aspects just didn’t work. Eleanor has an awakward romance with a local boy which is initally sweet but you wonder why Eleanor wants to share her story with a guy she’s only just met. She’s been around two hundred years but sometimes she doesn’t seem that smart. Clara’s reluctance to share with Eleanor the real reason why they are on the run is also grating-they would have avoided a lot of trouble if they had just been honest with each other. I was also a bit bored of seeing Clara in her underwear/naked for half the movie as well-although I’m sure some viewers will find that a positive thing and it has to be said Gemma Arterton does look great. It just felt like some of the scenes were not relevant to the plot and basically just there for Arterton to get her kit off.
Rating 3/5- an enjoyable and bloody addition to the genre but not memorable enough after the credits roll.