Saturday, June 23, 2018

Their Finest: Lissa Evans

Back in 2015, this book was featured at the Clothes in Books blog. It took two years for me to read it and another year to give a full review. The original title of the book was Their Finest Hour and a Half. In later editions, the title was shortened to Their Finest after the film adaptation with that title was released in 2016.

The novel by Lissa Evans is set in the the UK in 1940 and 1941. The story is about a young female copywriter who gets an assignment to the Ministry of Information, writing parts of scripts for a WWII propaganda film. That alone would be an interesting subject, but the story follows several other people associated with the filming. Each one provides a different view of the UK during the war.

Within this story there are multiple storylines involving :

  • Catrin, the female copywriter who is assigned to work on a film about the Dunkirk rescue mission.
  • Edith Beadmore, a wardrobe assistant at Madame Tussaud's in London who also ends up working on the film.
  • Lance Corporal Arthur Frith, appointed to be a Special Military Adviser to the film. His pre-war background in catering has not prepared him for the military or advising on a film.
  • Ambrose Hilliard, a once prominent actor who has a small role in the film.


It is a lovely story, very humorous and moving. I read the book last summer, then we watched the film shortly after it was released on disc here. I still remember the impact it had on me.

My favorite character was Ambrose, so full of himself and oblivious to why he can no longer demand the starring roles, the meaty roles. I had a hard time liking him at first, but his story is very interesting and he grew on me. Catrin's story is the main plotline, but I was also very fond of the storyline following Edith's trials and tribulations. All of the secondary characters involved in the stories were handled well, so that each plotline was meaningful and important.

I liked that the story emphasizes the effects that World War II had on the people at home. In 1940, London was bombed repeatedly by German planes and the war effort looks to be going very poorly. This story is about the people who are not off fighting the war, but are in London enduring the chaos, discomfort, and heartbreak of the Blitz. It is not a comedy but it is told with humor and a light touch.

The author's writing is very readable; the events felt real and engaging. Her descriptions of people enduring the bombing of their homes and work places while sitting in Anderson shelters or basements put me right there while it was happening.

I enjoyed the movie but I liked the book more, for the usual reasons. A book can have more depth and provide more background on the characters and what shaped them. I was unhappy that the sub-plot of the seamstress was dropped. I do accept that the changes made in adapting the book were probably necessary and it still is quite entertaining (and moving). The main roles are played by  Gemma Arterton (Catrin), Sam Claflin (Tom Buckley, the screenwriter), and Bill Nighy (Ambrose). Bill Nighy is a favorite actor in our household and he did a fine job in the role.

See also:



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Publisher:  Harper Perennial, 2017 (orig. publ. 2009)
Length:      436 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Historical Fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy.

25 comments:

  1. I like the sound of this one and it's not a book or movie I'm familiar with. A bit like Dear Mrs. Bird, which I read earlier this spring - mostly since it's about wartime London during the Blitz. And I see my library has it - lovely. Thanks for talking about it!

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    1. It really is a very good book, Kay. I was scanning through parts of it to write this post and the writing is so good, and the characters are interesting.

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  2. I remember reading about this on Moira's blog, Tracy. It really does sound like a beautifully- written book. And what an interesting topic, too. I need to move this one from radar to wish list.

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    1. The setting is great, Margot, and the fact that a lot of it centers around making a film adds to the enjoyment.

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  3. Sounds really good, Tracy. And the ‘40s are my favorite era, if I could choose any era to live in it would be the ‘40’s. Not sure why I don’t read more WWII settings? I’ll look for the movie too.

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    1. The 40's is a very interesting decade, Peggy. I do love books set in that period. Both the book and the movie are worth trying.

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  4. I'll keep an eye out for this as it's my kind of subject. I've not heard of it or the film based on it. Best to read the book first I suspect?

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    1. I would say read the book first, Cath. I usually go that way, but definitely in this case.

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  5. It’s a new one to me too. Sounds very nice indeed. I’m reading In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen now, which is also set early in the war. Have you read It? I’m only 20 pages in, so don’t know where it’s going yet.

    I’ll see if the library has this one.

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    1. I have been interested in In Farleigh Field, Rick, but wasn't sure about it. I will wait and see what you think. If you like, I will give it a try, for sure.

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    2. I’ll let you know here when I finish.

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    3. Meanwhile I’ve put Their Finest on hold at library. So many books......

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    4. Thanks, Rick, I will look forward to hearing about Bowen's book. I am glad you are going to try Their Finest, and hope it works for you.

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    5. I finished it yesterday afternoon. I'd give it a B or B+, mostly for character, as I thought the plot was somewhat predictable, though there was one nice twist (actually more of a reveal) near the end, which clarified who one of the spies was. Bowen is a good writer, but honestly I prefer her Evans mysteries (I have only read the first 3) to this one.

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    6. That is a good enough assessment for me to give a try, Rick. I like character most in books anyway. I should try her Evans mysteries also.

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  6. I read Their Finest Hour and a Half when it first came out, and liked it a lot. (Foolishly sent it on its way instead of keeping it). As for the movie (and why shorten the name to the fairly meaningless Their Finest?), I have watched it four times on Netflix, and will no doubt add to that count; I love it so much. Yes, Ambrose grows on us because he has such an interesting character arc. (at least, in the movie; I suppose I'd better track down the book again. :^))

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    1. I agree, Susan. I liked the original title much better. We will definitely watch the movie again, we purchased a copy because we knew we would. I think I will want to read the book again too, although it is hard to find time to read unread books and reread too. When I was scanning through the book recently I felt it was definitely worth a reread. Even more depth to all the characters than I remembered.

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  7. This just came in for me, and I'm picking this up at the library in a couple of hours when it opens. That will make 3 library books in hand...

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    1. That's great, Rick. I do hope you like it. Please let me know.

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  8. I'm about a hundred pages in, and so far I prefer FARLEIGH, but they are quite different and I shouldn't be comparing them, I think. I've just re-read your review and have a better idea what I should be/have been expecting. On I go. I may finish it this weekend, though I have quite a bit of work in the garden to do as well as making a large (9x13) enchilada bake (in the mood for Mexican food) and friends over bringing baked tacos, refried beans and I'm making guacamole. So that will cut into reading time!

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    1. That does sound like a fun gathering, Rick, and delicious food, Rick. I am hoping I can find a copy of In Farleigh Field at the book sale, even though it came out fairly recently. If not I will look for other options.

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    2. That is probably the most economical approach for me, Rick, but I don't have easy access to a library, while working full time during the week. I always feel guilty saying that, because I know what a wonderful resource libraries are. Maybe when I am retired.

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  9. Such a good book, such a good film, so glad you liked them both too. I too got the DVD because I know I will want to watch it again. Bill Nighy so marvellous, but Gemma Arterton very good too.

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    1. I did enjoy both of them, but it has been nearly a year, Moira. It is time to go back and watch the movie for a second time. I haven't seen Arterton in much yet, I know she was in a Bond movie, but don't remember much about that one. I always see a movie a bit differently the 2nd time around.

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