London, 1940. British morale is at a low ebb. The Orwellian before their was Orwell “Ministry of Information” decides a feel-good movie about the successful evacuation of Dunkirk would be just the thing. Problem is, most of the men are in uniform, so a woman, originally hired to write the “slop” (actual term for womens’ dialogue) becomes the principal writer of the Dunkirk movie.
The movie has a lot to recommend it. It offers one of the most clear-eyed depictions of London during the Blitz that I’ve seen — a time when you might come to work and be told by your co-worker that her landlady died last night, or where you might go home after a long night at the office to find your whole apartment block flattened. The fact that people carried on under those conditions is indeed amazing.
The movie’s main failing is that Gemma Arterton, while pleasant enough, is not a strong enough actress to carry the lead. The best scenes involve Bill Nighy, as a washed-up British actor who, cast as the drunken uncle in the little Dunkirk movie, winds up stealing the movie. He ends up stealing the main movie too.
The movie is entertaining enough, though, and worth watching. Speaking of scene-stealing, there’s a wonderful (if dramatically superfluous) scene at Whitehall featuring an uncredited Jeremy Irons, as Secretary of Scenery Chewing.