Khaleej Times - City Times - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID LIGHT david@khalee­j­times.com

THE MINUTE THE cred­its rolled dur­ing its pre­miere just be­fore Christmas 2003, Eng­land wel­comed to the fold a new cul­tural icon. It wasn’t Mar­tine McCutcheon who played the love­able tea lady, nor was it the un­lucky in love writer played by Colin Firth (he’d have to wait another seven years to play Ge­orge VI for that hon­our to be be­stowed). No, it was the Mick Jag­ger/Keith Richards hy­brid, ex-rocker Billy Mack striv­ing for a ‘come­back at any cost’ with his sell­out cover sin­gle of pop clas­sic Love is All Around. Arise, na­tional trea­sure, Bill Nighy.

Since 2003, he and his film Love Ac­tu­ally have been ush­ered into our houses round about the same time each year – ev­ery time af­firm­ing Christmas Day and the hol­i­day spirit.

“In Eng­land at Christmas it’s me and the queen,” Nighy pro­claimed as we met him at the Dubai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val where his lat­est work, Their Finest is cur­rently show­ing. “You get the queen’s speech and then you get me in ly­cra trousers!” Does that sit com­fort­ably? “I can feel noth­ing but grat­i­tude for that par­tic­u­lar phe­nom­e­non. It

made lots of other things pos­si­ble. It’s a good thing in the world. It’s a sweet movie.”

Set in World War II, Their Finest, which comes to DIFF, is a pe­riod rom-com cen­tring on two pro­pa­ganda film writ­ers played by Gemma Arter­ton and Sam Claflin. Nighy plays the pompous Bri­tish ac­tor charged with star­ring in the movie to raise the Bl­itzed Brits’ hopes. What is de­liv­ered is a typ­i­cally as­tute per­for­mance from Nighy, pro­vid­ing much of the comic re­lief and once again –de­spite be­ing a sup­port­ing char­ac­ter - stand­ing out as the pic­ture’s main at­trac­tion.

“I love the film within the film,” Nighy said about Their Finest. “I love that colour. We had a huge wa­ter tank like they do on big movies,” he said ref­er­enc­ing a scene where the cast is stranded at sea. “Once you got in that you re­alise you’re in the movies. We had tremen­dous fun.”

Al­though set over 70 years ago, the film touches upon themes dis­cussed to this day. Ob­vi­ously the pro­pa­ganda el­e­ment is per­ti­nent given the cur­rent de­bate on the pro­lif­er­a­tion of false news, but scenes also touch upon gen­der equal­ity. Arter­ton’s char­ac­ter, when she is be­ing in­ter­viewed for the screen­writer’s po­si­tion is told, ‘ob­vi­ously you can’t be paid as much as the chaps.’

This high­light­ing of the prob­lem was a fac­tor in Nighy mak­ing the pic­ture.

“On our way to to­tal civil­i­sa­tion, and you’ll ob­serve there’s a long way to go yet, is to­tal gen­der equal­ity. That’s the most civilised you can get,” he said. “You can judge a so­ci­ety on it. We have a long way to go, speak­ing as an English­man. Great progress has been made, but not enough. I want to try and be use­ful in that area. I’ve worked for many fe­male di­rec­tors. As Martin Amis says it’s men get­ting away with every­thing… and we have to get rid of that b ******* for the bet­ter­ment of the hu­man race.”

favourite film? “Punch-Drunk Love. I think the per­for­mances are great and the love story is very charm­ing.”

Nighy as Billy Mack in Love Ac­tu­ally, a Christmas sta­ple in Bri­tish house­holds along with a three o’clock tele­vised ad­dress from Queen El­iz­a­beth II

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