Film review: Dad’s Army (2016)

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Who did they think they were kidding?

A new film version of the classic BBC TV comedy series about the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard was never likely to win over fans of the much-loved sitcom.

But in fairness, while certainly not great, this isn’t all bad. The casting is mostly successful. Toby Jones achieves the near impossible feat of filling Arthur Lowe’s shoes as the perfectly pompous Captain Mainwaring. ‘Line of Duty’ star Daniel Mays is also excellent as the spiv Private Walker and Michael Gambon (despite a needlessly crude scene in which he pisses on another character) does an admirable job of evoking the spirit of the placid Private Godfrey (originally played by Arnold Ridley). There is also an admirable attempt to expand the female cast – perhaps a slight failing of the original show – including Alan Partridge’s Felicity Montagu as the formidable and previously unseen Elizabeth Mainwaring.

But there also is quite a lot that is bad. Although mostly competent, some of the cast such as Tom Courtenay as Lance Corporal Jones (a genuinely old actor playing the character Clive Dunn played in middle-age) and Bill Nighy’s louche Sergeant Wilson generally reminding you of the old cast just enough to annoy you rather than truly replacing them. Blake Harrison’s portrayal of young Pike, meanwhile, is completely misjudged, ‘The Inbetweeners’ star playing him more as a debonair lech than as the juvenile “stupid boy” Ian Lavender perfected, despite both actors playing the role at a similar age.

Like the flawed 1971 film of the series, the movie also errs in making the platoon face a very specific foe in this case in the form of spy Catherine Zeta Jones. In the TV series, the real but unseen threat posed by the Nazis overseas was usually deemed sufficient although in fairness this is perhaps an inevitable consequence of expanding ‘Dad’s Army’ into a full-length film.

Unanswered questions abound though. Why does the film start in 1944 when in reality that was the year the Home Guard ceased activity? Why is one group of characters shown in full fox-hunting regalia, when hunting never occurred during the Second World War? Why does the plot hinge on a civilian telephone call to occupied Paris, an impossibility at the time? Why does the usually uneducated Jones suddenly start making a fairly deep philosophical point on one occasion? Why is Wilson suddenly revealed as an ex-university don?

This isn’t a disaster and is certainly respectful to the memory of  ‘Dad’s Army’. But forty years on from the end of the series, one wonders if even despite its surprisingly strong box office (mostly, like the recent Brexit result, attributable to older audiences) if this will be our final visit to Walmington-on-Sea.

Director: Oliver Parker. Cast: Toby Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones, Bill Nighy, Bill Paterson, Michael Gambon, Daniel Mays, Felicity Montagu, Alison Steadman, Sarah Lancashire

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