Whilst Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” stole all the blockbuster credits this season, this small film could serve as a tasty hors d’oeuvres for the larger, more expensive movie.
With a budget the size of Nolan’s catering unit, this was always going to be small in spectacle, concentrating on character and adding a hefty dash of British ironic humour.
During the second World War propaganda films were designed and produced to be optimistic, provide valuable public service advice and of course, largely ignore any nasty reality which could affect morale.
We meet the team producing some dire movies that no-one watches. However, when the group alight on a story of two young girls taking a boat to rescue trapped soldiers at Dunkirk, this sounds perfect. Whether the story is true or not is largely irrelevant. Add a non existent love interest, a dog and hey presto, “the story writes itself”.
“Tom Buckley” (Sam Claflin) is the hack pulling all of this together but he needs someone to write the “slop” (women stuff). Enter innocent abroad “Catrin Cole” (Gemma Arterton) who is more talented scriptwriter than anyone else in the room but alas, being a woman “regrettably and understandably”, must be paid less.
The team recruit an aging “star” actor “Ambrose Hilliard” (Bill Nighy) a legend in his own lunchtime. He is taken on to anchor the film in more ways than one, as the movie within the film attests.
The story follows the travails of movie making as the crew travel to various locations to get the story in the can. They are later obliged to make room for a non actor in the cast, American “Carl” (Jake Lacy), appealing to that demographic as part of the war effort.
Acting royalty Richard E. Grant and Jeremy Irons also get brief scenes but the main heavy lifting is between Arterton and Claflin. Despite Catrin (Arterton) being married to “Ellis” (Jack Huston), the pair generate decent chemistry together.
Bill Nighy reprises his usual routine which is a shame, a talented actor but here retreading his precious roles to little effect.
The film at times feels stagey, false and darts about in tone. One moment seemingly a romantic comedy, the next exploring the real danger of living in London during the Blitz. This is an uneasy alliance and exposes the films central dilemma of not knowing what it wants to be or say.
There is a major swerve towards the conclusion, highlighting a lack of direction for the story. Arguably necessary for characters to grow but somehow inappropriate for this type of movie.
The film might have been better served pitching towards a more mature audience with additional gentle humour, more even tone and a better conclusion. Overall the film feels like an an opportunity missed, with box office circa $10m confirming that belief.
Despite some good work by the leads and some early promise, this is somewhat disappointing.
The film falls between many genres and arguably fails to hit the mark for any movie type or audience demographic.