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Dad's Army


Stars: Toby Jones. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bill Nighy, Sarah Lancashire, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, Felicity Montagu, Bill Paterson, Blake Harrison, Alison Steadman, Daniel Mays, Julia Foster

Director: Oliver Parker


Yes, I realise the question is painfully obvious but it still needs to be asked.

The first film version of the classic television series was released some 35 years ago with the promotional plug “At last! Their epic story invades the Big Screen!”

While the 1971 movie failed to reach the comic heights of the half-hour-long originals at least it had the considerable advantage of featuring the inimitable small screen cast.

No such luck here. This a reboot that kicks as hard as it can but never goes that far compared with its ancestor.

With Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie and Arnold Ridley no longer with us, only two members of the original series – the now bearded Ian Lavender who was once Private Pike and now makes a cameo appearance as Brigadier Pritchard and Frank Williams’s Vicar – feature in this redundant reboot.

To give them their due, Toby Jones, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay and Bill Paterson work hard to revive Mainwaring, Godfrey, Jones and Frazer respectively and, should you be a Dad’s Army virgin, then you probably will get your money’s worth watching them.

Gambon and Courtenay in particular, are splendid, Jones works hard to create his own mildly amusing version of the ineffably pompous bank manager and Paterson is okay, if unexceptional.

Which leaves Bill Nighy, truly dreadful and deeply embarrassing too as Sergeant Wilson.

I reckon a centipede with all 100 feet intact who stepped into John Le Mesurier’s shoes would be more effective that Nighy whose entire dramatic-comic acting range consists of always playing Bill Nighy whom I find more irritating every time he plays Bill Nighy, regardless of the material.

If you hear moaning during the film, then it might not only be coming from understandably upset filmgoers who have paid to see the film but could all too justifiably be Le Mesurier spinning in his grave.

Sensibly screenwriter Hamish McColl plays safe by ensuring the revived characters basically repeat the routine roster of amiable antics that made the TV series a hit. World War II is still playing (no real suspense, of course, since we already know who won) but now it’s 1944 and the Allies are about to invade Germany.

Incidentally, the fact that McColl also scripted Mr Bean's Holiday and the equally irritating Johnny English Reborn goes quite a way towards explaining how a genuine comedy classic has been reborn barely alive.

And it’s up to Captain Mainwaring and Company to see to it that the Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard stops the Nazis learning about D-Day by ensuring that an undercover Nazi spy never discovers the Allies’ deliberate campaign of misinformation that has been mounted to make the way for Eisenhower and D-Day…

Cue mild comic complications, ‘hilarious’ horseplay and various reruns of jokes already made famous by the television series.

The indigenous women of Walmington-on-Sea are rightly given more screen time here and, naturally, tend to be mocked in the best tradition of British comedy while Catherine Zeta-Jones (something of a comedown for her?) has a major role, presumably there as a “name’ to entice American moviegoers to march into cinemas.

Which is unlikely, I feel since the movie is irreparably English, from accents to locations, from wordplay to predictable situations like the opening “chase the bull” sequence.

One memorable line, though. A German officer suddenly breaks into English to ask “Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Churchill?”

If only the warm wit of this enjoyably sly take on the TV series’ opening credits had continued throughput the film.

(Incidentally, in the UK, the film carries a PG certificate. In America that might well become an "R" - for redundant).

Alan Frank

UK 2016. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour.
100 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 04 Feb 2016