THEIR FINEST

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - SCREEN REVIEWS - Di­rec­tor: Lone Scher­fig { lion­s­gate } —Ce­cilia Now­ell

It feels in­ap­pro­pri­ate to be moved by a film about pro­pa­ganda dur­ing an era of “al­ter­na­tive facts.” Yet I found my soul soothed by Their Finest, which fol­lows scriptwriter Ca­trin Cole (Gemma Arter­ton) as she leads a Bri­tish gov­ern­ment pro­pa­ganda film dur­ing World War II. Ca­trin is hired to write the “slop,” or women’s di­a­logue, but she soon re­al­izes writ­ing scripts has real po­lit­i­cal power.

Af­ter the Bat­tle of Dunkirk, news­pa­per head­lines de­clare that two Bri­tish sis­ters,

Rose and Lily, took their fa­ther’s boat and res­cued dozens of al­lied soldiers. When Ca­trin is sent to in­ves­ti­gate, she dis­cov­ers that the sis­ters’ boat broke down be­fore they ever reached France. But Ca­trin de­cides to tell their story—with some changes. In this mo­ment, the film al­ters the na­ture of pro­pa­ganda from op­pres­sive to sub­ver­sive, and ex­plores whether chang­ing facts and blur­ring truths might ever have pos­i­tive po­lit­i­cal power.

Their Finest becomes the story of a cast, crew, and gov­ern­ment seek­ing to in­spire their al­lies. Across the Chan­nel, the Third Reich’s troops wreak havoc on Europe, mo­ti­vated by false­hoods de­signed to spread fear. While the Axis made pro­pa­ganda to jus­tify ex­clu­sion, Ca­trin and her col­leagues in­spire

Their Finest is ul­ti­mately a film about whether we lis­ten to pro­pa­gan­dists feed­ing us “al­ter­na­tive facts” or to sto­ry­tellers ask­ing us to con­sider marginal­ized truths.

women to fight back. When the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment comes to this re­al­iza­tion, they ask Ca­trin’s team to add an Amer­i­can char­ac­ter to the film, be­cause Amer­i­can women might then rally their gov­ern­ment to join the sec­ond World War.

But rec­og­niz­ing women’s po­lit­i­cal power means ask­ing whether that power comes from their re­la­tion­ships with men. This dy­namic shows up in the re­la­tion­ships be­tween the scriptwrit­ers. Ca­trin sets out to tell Rose and Lily’s sto­ries, but each new re­quire­ment from the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment di­min­ishes their sig­nif­i­cance: To make the story at­trac­tive, the scriptwrit­ers add a male love in­ter­est; to make the film “re­al­is­tic,” the writ­ers play up the role of a fic­tional un­cle; and to make the movie po­lit­i­cally mean­ing­ful, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment casts an Amer­i­can fighter pi­lot as a sec­ond love in­ter­est. Rose and Lily are pe­riph­eral char­ac­ters un­til a tragedy, and a plot hole, al­lows Rose to fix the boat’s pro­peller.

How do we rec­on­cile cheer­ing for Ca­trin while boo­ing at Trump? They’re both masters of pro­pa­ganda, but in dif­fer­ent ways: Only one tells sto­ries to ex­clude. While mod­ern pro­pa­ganda seeks to keep sys­tems of op­pres­sion, Ca­trin hopes to break down th­ese struc­tures. Their Finest is ul­ti­mately a film about whether we lis­ten to pro­pa­gan­dists feed­ing us “al­ter­na­tive facts” or to sto­ry­tellers ask­ing us to con­sider marginal­ized truths.

Be­low: Still from Their Finest, poster for Ask the Sex­pert.

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