After watching ‘Their Finest’, a beautiful film set during World War Two, I was reminded of my own grandparents and some of the stories they shared from that time. The fashion brought back memories of the stylish frocks, knits, hats and handbags that were the style of the day. It was a time of rations and deprivation yet they still managed to keep up appearances, even drawing on the seams of their stockings when none were available. My grandfather fought in two wars. He signed up for the first when he was only sixteen. He forged his age, of course, and although he never spoke much about it he bore the scars – a hand misshapen and still filled with shrapnel.
My Nanna was Miss Charm Girl – London and one of her prizes was a hat. The hat was long gone by the time I came along but the hat box had travelled the globe with her and contained her most precious possessions – photos, letters and trinkets from home in England. Coming to this strange, harsh land she was desperately homesick, even after having spent the war years hiding out in tube stations, fearful of being bombed. The people of London never knew what awaited them when they emerged from their underground bunkers. Imagine the destruction they must have seen all around them. My grandfather moved the family to a new estate out in the country, but even there the local school was bombed, so I guess Australia and Brisbane seemed like a new, safe beginning for these 10 pound Poms.
My grandfather was a paratrooper and on his last mission he was mistakenly dropped from a plane onto the roof of a house containing German soldiers. He was a very good runner, so he ran and ran but was eventually felled by the bullet to his hand. He was taken to a POW camp where he stayed until the end of the war.
Sometimes when I hear people complaining about things today I think back on their stories and understand where the phrase, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ came from. It was whilst watching the beautiful film ‘Their Finest’ that many of my grandparent’s stories came back to me.
In a beautiful, but not cloyingly sentimental way, the actors in this film – including Gemma Arterton and the outstanding Bill Nighy showed the contribution of actors, producers and writers during the making of films meant to buoy the spirits of the nation.
Gemma’s character, Catrin Cole, was ahead of her time, being a writer and a woman, who pretended to be married to her artist boyfriends that they could live together. The attitudes to women of the time are mirrored throughout the story. Catrin’s understated assertiveness suits the mood of the times and reminded me of my own grandmother’s quiet feminism.
The costumes and props found in the film provide authenticity, as does the uplifting propaganda tale told about two sisters, Rose and Lily, who rescue soldiers from the sea after the battle of Dunkirk. You are reminded throughout the story of an English way of life blighted by rations, blackouts and bombings but are also uplifted by the preciousness of life and the resilience of the human race.
The latest census figures have found surprisingly that the average Australian is a woman whose family are English Immigrants. So if you are interested in history, want to know a little of some of your ancestor’s life during World War 2 or are just looking for a cracking good film, look no further than’ Their Finest’, one of the finest films of the year so far and a thought provoking and provocative snapshot of wartime England.
You’ll laugh, applaud and cry along with this fine ensemble cast. This movie will sneak up on you and find it’s way into your heart and also remind you how very lucky you are.
‘Their Finest’ opens on the 20th April.