Title: Dad’s Army
Director: Oliver Parker
Major Players: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Out of Five: 2
When a TV series is approaching its 50th birthday and is still being repeated, it must be doing something right. And if it’s a comedy, it must be making us laugh. Check out the listings for BBC2 and you’ll find Dad’s Army in there somewhere. So why do we need a film version?
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard have ventured onto the big screen. There was a feature film back in 1971, when the TV series was in its hey-day, but those were the days when films of popular telly programmes were little more than extended episodes, stretched to fit the mandatory 90 minutes and usually bursting at the seams. Today’s film makers take a different approach and prefer to create something that will stand up on its own.
Director Oliver Parker and writer Hamish McColl have gone down the same path for the new Dad’s Army film, setting it in 1944 when a German invasion is very much on the cards. Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) and his platoon are on high alert and highly excited at the prospect of taking part in a major exercise. Then, at the same time, they discover a German spy has infiltrated their patch. Coincidentally, glamorous journalist Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones) arrives in town to write a feature on the Home Guard, setting male hearts a-flutter and getting right up the noses of the local ladies. Could there possibly be a connection between the two?
You don’t need me to tell you the answer. And you don’t need to know much more to get an idea of what to expect from the film. On paper, its “Who’s-who In British Acting” cast raises expectations. There’s not only Jones as Mainwaring but Bill Nighy (Wilson), Tom Courtney (Jones), Michael Gambon (Godfrey), Bill Paterson (Frazer) and Daniel Mays (Walker). It can’t fail. Can it?
Yes, it can. And it does. They all do their absolute utmost to keep things afloat and you find yourself willing them to succeed. Michael Gambon, in particular, is a delightful Godfrey and Bill Nighy comes close as Wilson. The problem is the script. It is painfully unfunny and any attempts at jokes – double entendres, physical comedy, puns – fall flat on their faces. Worse still, infantile gags about roly poly and sausages are just plain embarrassing. When I saw the film, there was more of a reaction among the near-silent audience to Ian Lavender’s cameo than to any attempts at humour. And the storyline, as you’ve already worked out, is no better.
It’s all so desperately sad. It’s a waste of the impressive cast and you will them on to revive those warm memories of the original, but they can’t. Because they have even fewer tools to do the job than the original Home Guard. Which made me wonder what the usually reliable Hamish McColl – who, incidentally, wrote the adorable Paddington – thought he was doing. He seems to have forgotten something fundamental about Dad’s Army. It’s a comedy.
He and Oliver Parker should have left well alone. With due deference to Godfrey, yes, you can be excused from watching this. You’re better off with a box set of the original, because this has already been re-christened Dud’s Army.
Dad’s Army is released in cinemas on Friday, 5 February and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 4 February.