In a man’s world, it’s up to Catrin Cole to lift the spirits of a nation…
It’s 1940. In a small advertising agency in Soho, Catrin writes snappy lines for Vida Elastic and So-Bee-Fee gravy browning. But the country is in peril, all skills are transferable and there’s a place in the war effort for those who have a knack with words.
Catrin is conscripted into the world of propaganda films. After a short spell promoting the joy of swedes for the Ministry of Food, she finds herself writing dialogue alongside scriptwriter Tom Buckley, for a heart-warming but not-quite-true story of rescue and romance on the beaches of Dunkirk.
And as bombs start to fall on London, she discovers that there’s just as much drama, comedy and love behind the scenes as there is in front of the camera . . .
Three very different people feature in this wartime story, and all have life changing experiences. Ambrose Hilliard has been a matinee idol but is now being cast in minor roles as an old man. He is no longer given the respect he was used to, and he finds the poor food and difficult conditions of wartime London irksome. Meanwhile spinster Edith Beadmore has her steady life disrupted by bombs, first causing destruction in the King and Queen’s gallery at Madame Tussauds where she cares for the costumes and then being made homeless. And finally, there is Catrin, a young, lively Welsh girl who has run away with her artist lover.
The three are brought together during filming of an “almost true” account of a recue at Dunkirk. Catrin has been chosen to join the scriptwriting team by cynical, witty writer, Buckley to add “women’s dialogue”. Ambrose has reluctantly agreed to take the part of an old sailor but initially Edith has no connection to the filming in a Norfolk seaside town other than to be working as a seamstress for her judgemental cousin, Vera. Only when “military advisor” Arthur, who survived Dunkirk, invites Edith to visit the filming does she become involved with preparing the costumes.
Perhaps the real star of the book is Cerberus, the dog, who accidentally becomes a film star and a companion to Ambrose. It is a pleasure to observe Ambrose softening his selfish approach and begin to appreciate genuine friendship. There is a chance that Edith may no longer be lonely in the future, but Catrin experiences real sorrow. The account of day after day of uncertainty waiting for the bombs to fall, of visits to the cinema as it used to be with people wandering in and out all through the presentation, and of hardship which affected everyone indiscriminately, gives a real sense of the wartime experience.
For me, this book didn’t quite match the pleasure of reading Crooked Heart or V is for Victory but it is still an excellent read about a fascinating group of people.
Their Finest on Amazon UK
My review of V is for Victory by Lissa Evans