As someone in his frisky fifties, I am old enough to remember the arrival on our British TV screens of the original Dad’s Army back in 1968. I can still remember my dearly departed Dad with tears flowing down his cheeks at the antics of this motley crew of (mostly) old folks as they confronted the (mostly imagined) Nazi hoards. Now nearly 40 years after the last episode premiered comes another big screen version (a spin off film with the original cast came out in 1971).
For those reading this from other parts of the world that may need a little more explanation, Dad’s Army refers to the British Home Guard – a group of old timers from the First World War and/or those otherwise unable to serve in the active fighting forces in World War 2. The Home Guard were to be the last line of defense in an invasion of the UK.
The plot of the new film is paper thin. It’s 1944 and the Nazi’s are desperate to understand the invasion plans of the Allied forces. They dispatch a spy – Agent Cobra – to the sleepy seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea to try to dig out the truth. At the same time, an attractive journalist in the shapely form of Catherine Zeta-Jones arrives in the town to do an article on the Home Guard unit, stirring up passions and relationship-disruptions as she goes. And that about sums it up! (Now, you’d have to be pretty clinically stupid after watching the trailer not to work out who the spy was going to be, and fortunately for the film this is not a secret that is left to outstay its welcome.)
As a standalone film it’s a pleasant enough watch, but in the end a bit of a damp squib. It really only works as a strong dose of nostalgia for the characters from the original series. So the key demographic for this would be those over 50 or children under 12 who may also enjoy some of the farcical and knockabout humour.
Many of the cast are perfectly suited to their roles, as caricatures of the original cast. Toby Jones plays the pompous Mainwaring; Bill Nighy is the spit of Le Mesurier as Sergeant Wilson; Michael Gambon makes a fantastic Private Godfrey; and Blake Harrison (from “The Inbetweeners”) as ‘Stupid Boy’ Pike. Toby Jones in particular excels in getting across the character of the puffed up and self-important Mainwaring. The quality of his acting is nicely brought home by a blooper shown over the end credits involving a mobile phone: Jones stays perfectly in character as he lambasts Private Godfrey.
It was also truly fantastic to see 84-year old Frank Williams reprise his role as the vicar. With Ian Lavender’s cameo, one of only two of the original cast members to do so.
The one cast member that really didn’t work for me was Tom Courtenay as Corporal Jones: an excellent actor, but not a good fit for this part. Jones (in the guise of Clive Dunn) was at the farcical comedy centre of the original series, but here all of his lines fall as flat as deflated blimp.
The script manages to fabricate opportunities for most of the cast to utter their classic catchphrases, with some more successful than others. There is also a lack of chemistry between some of the cast, with the Mainwaring/Wilson class war not really working well: a classic line about Wilson speaking Latin falls to the floor like a dead weight as a result.
Directed by Oliver Parker, this is one mainly for the older fans of the TV Series. It’s probably a 2-Fad film, but the extra Fad I give this one is for the heady dose of nostalgia and good memories from my youth.
Fad Rating: FFF.
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