Jane's Reviews > Their Finest Hour and a Half

Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans
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's review
Jan 08, 10

bookshelves: borrowed
Read in January, 2010

London. 1940. There’s a war on, and it doesn’t look like being over any time soon. That’s why the Ministry of Information is looking to make a film. A film to boost morale, and maybe draw the USA a little closer to what is going on in Europe. Propaganda? Well why not?!

It’s not going to be easy, with so many of the country’s finest unavailable. But it makes a wonderful story.

It is told through four characters, on separate paths that will, of course, converge.

First there’s Catrin Cole. She comes from small town Wales, but she left home to follow her artist lover to the bright lights of London. She works as a copywriter, but she’s spotted as a writer with potential by the Ministry and recruited. And so we learn with Catrin the finer points of writing for the screen and dealing with the strange world of both civil servants and film industry people.

Catrin proves to be an adept recruit. She uncovers the story of twin sisters helping the Dunkirk evacuation that forms the basis of the much vaunted film. Though the sisters probably wouldn’t recognise their story after the film people have had their way with it.

There’s Ambrose Hilliard. He was a matinée idol back in the days of the silent screen and he is still a leading man in his own mind. Not though on anyone else’s. What will he make of the supporting, less than heroic, character role he is offered?

He has a huge ego, but you cannot help feeling the sadness of his situation and hoping he will accept that his expectations must change.

And there’s Edith Beadmore, a quiet middle-aged woman. She is a seamstress, working as Madame Tussaud’s, behaving properly and hoping that one day something interesting will happen to her. Maybe it will. You can’t help hoping so.

Finally, there’s Lance Corporal Arthur Frith, a simple soul who is none to sure why he has been appointed Special Military Adviser to the film. It could be because he is a survivor of Dunkirk, or, more likely, it could be an administrative error. And maybe it’s fate.

All four principal characters are beautifully drawn, and so utterly believable. You want to follow all of their stories, to find out what happens to them.

Those stories come together beautifully to tell the story of the film.

There’s much to enjoy. Gentle comedy – the kind that comes from observation and affection. And some rather broader comedy when filming finally gets underway.

But that’s balanced by very real emotions. And the picture painted of life in London, with nightly bombing raids and all of the privations of war is utterly convincing.

This is a book full of wonderful details, incidents and characters. There’s a lot going on and it would be so easy for things to go wrong, but they don’t.

Their Finest Hour and a Half speaks wonderfully of lives that change, in small and in big ways, as the result of one propaganda film.

It’s one of those books well worth living in for a little while.

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