Could the delightful period drama starring Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin become an unexpected Oscar entry?
Credit: Nicola Dove

An Education director Lone Scherfig has always considered the Toronto International Film Festival a lucky charm, and this year should be no different. The Danish filmmaker returned to fest for the sixth time with her new film Their Finest, which debuted Sunday night.

The movie, which marks a re-teaming of Scherfig with her producer from An Education Amanda Posey (Brooklyn), is a period piece tracking a group of filmmakers charged with creating an inspiring film during the Blitz of London during World War II. Comedic, poignant, and delightful, the film — which is also produced by Stephen Woolley (Carol) — stars Gemma Arterton (Prince of Persia), Sam Claflin (Me Before You), and Bill Nighy, is one of many titles looking for a buyer in Toronto. Should someone scoop up the distribution rights quickly, we could have another title to add to the crunch of high-quality films looking for year-end, awards season love.

“This is something I really know something about,” Scherfig said during an interview ahead of the premiere. “Their Finest is one big declaration of love to film and filmmakers.”

The movie centers on Arterton’s character Catrin Cole, a burgeoning writer hired by the Ministry of Information’s Film Division to write “the slop” — the lines female characters speak to each other — on a new movie aimed at lifting the country’s morale during war time. She works closely with lead writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) while also becoming the key communicator with the pompous, past-his prime actor Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy) — who steals scene after scene in a role that’s sure to connect with Hollywood. The movie marks a return to form for Scherfig, who is able to capture the similar tightrope-walking tone that made An Education so charming.

“Looking back, I can see that the films I do are always a new challenge and different thematically but tonally they are often a lot alike,” says Scherfig. “It’s better to tell heavy stories lightly then the other way around.”

That deftness of tone is what Posey hoped Scherfig would bring to this film. “She has a really careful eye and ear for moving between the comic and the more profound,” says Posey. “She tread that line beautifully in An Education and I think she straddles that line between comic and moving here very well. She also has a fantastic way with actors. I think Their Finest is a career best for Gemma, and Bill is wonderful in it.”

Like An Education and Brooklyn before it, Their Finest, based on the novel Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans, is a nuanced tale of a young woman finding her own voice and creating her own path while also having the added benefit of being a big, wet kiss to filmmaking.

Says Posey, “I do think it will appeal to Academy voters in much the same way The Artist did. So yeah, fingers crossed.”

Watch an exclusive clip from Their Finest below, and see a new image from the film above.