Jamie Collins's Reviews > Their Finest Hour and a Half

Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans
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it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, wwii

4.5 stars, really good! This is a novel about the making of a film in London during the worst of the Blitz, in 1940-41. Bombs are falling almost nightly, and every morning people worry about anyone who’s late to work. Despite that the book is very funny, as well as being poignant, and the setting feels absolutely vivid.

The Ministry of Information has commissioned a movie meant to boost the morale of the British people and to enlist the sympathy of filmgoers in the United States. The writers take a dubious news article about twin girls rescuing soldiers from Dunkirk and distort the story even further to create their inspiring script. Then they’re compelled to add an American character, somehow placed on the scene at Dunkirk.

A large part of the story is told from the point of view of Ambrose Hilliard, an aging actor from the era of silent films who is vain and snobbish to the point of being delusional. (He’s played in the movie by Bill Nighy.) He is staunchly resisting the segue from leading man to character actor, but after a blunt speech from his agent he accepts a role in the Dunkirk movie as the drunken uncle with a redeeming death scene. I like the way his rather unpleasant character is himself somewhat redeemed, by the end of the book, without him actually changing very much.

The story is also told through the eyes of Catrin, a young Welsh woman for whom the war has afforded the amazing opportunity to work as a copywriter, if only for women’s dialog and “slop”. Also she can do “a bit of tidying” in the office. The banter among the script writers is hilarious, and so is Catrin’s first exposure to filmmaking - a nice contrast to Hilliard’s jaded view.

Then we have lonely Edith, whose job is to maintain the historical costumes at Madame Tussaud’s (“reattaching paste pearls to Ann Boleyn’s stomacher”). When both the museum and her dreary boarding house are bombed, Edith visits family on the coast, where the movie is being filmed, and where she meets Arthur, a lonely lance corporal seconded to the move set as a “special military advisor” because he was at Dunkirk. (“Well, it was all a bit of a muddle.”) His major contribution is to mention that the actors’ pristine military uniforms should look... well, “more weathered” is what he settles on.

I’ll warn you that the ending is not entirely happy, although the book is a bit less sad than the movie, because the movie omits one of the happy storylines.
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Reading Progress

March 11, 2018 – Started Reading
March 11, 2018 – Shelved
March 11, 2018 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
March 11, 2018 – Shelved as: wwii
March 15, 2018 – Finished Reading

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