Dad’s Army

Posted: February 7, 2016 in Film reviews

Directed by Oliver Parker. Starring Toby Jones, Bill Nighy and Catherine Zeta Jones.


It’s 1944 and the invasion of France in imminent. In the south coastal town of Walmington-on-Sea the local Home Guard platoon, let by Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) are under threat of being disbanded, and so when glamourous journalist Rose Winters (Zeta Jones) arrives to write an article, Mainwaring sees this as his chance to impress the top brass, he’s also rather smitten with Miss Winters, as is every member of his platoon, especially his second in command Sgt Wilson (Nighy).

Meanwhile MI5 are concerned that there may be a Nazi spy in Walmington-on-Sea trying to discover the plans for the invasion. With the fate of the War at stake can this bumbling group of oddballs save the day?

And so, almost 40 years after the last new episode of Perry and Croft’s seminal sitcom was broadcast, a big budget film version with an impressive cast arrives on the scene. The original sitcom ran from 1968 to 1977 and was much beloved by most who watched it (and continue to watch it to this day because you can usually find an episode on telly somewhere). There were 80 odd episodes (with even a few missing ala Doctor Who) and the characters became ingrained in British culture; the officious Mainwaring, the idiotic Pike, the off with the fairies Godfrey and Corporal Jones—with his exhortation that “They don’t like it up em!”—to mention just a few.

With all this in mind the most obvious thought that came to mind when this film was announced was that there was no way it could live up to the TV series.

And, as it turns out, that was pretty much the correct assessment. Which isn’t to say this is wholly a film without its charms, and it certainly doesn’t trample over the memory of the original, but nor does it provide anything particular new, or anything any better than might have been found in the weakest episodes of the show, with the possible exception of its more 21st century attitudes towards gender.

In terms of its cast it’s hard to envisage you could have put together a better ensemble than this, although few, if any of them quite come close to eclipsing the originals. If anyone does it’s Toby Jones, who not only essays Arthur Lowe’s officious bank manager obsessed with rank and class but manages to inject a smidgen of empathy that Lowe’s role in an ongoing sitcom precluded. Elsewhere Michael Gambon’s Private Godfrey is a joy to behold and Tom Courtenay’s Corporal Jones is fun. Which isn’t to say the rest don’t do a good job. Bill Nighy plays Wilson with a rakish charm that seems more Bill Nighy than John Le Mesurier but he’s always eminently watchable. Daniel Mays does a grand job as the show’s resident spiv, Private Walker. Blake Harrison is mostly very good as the idiotic Pike, though he never quite has the innocence that Ian Lavender had (as a side note Lavender and Frank Williams are sadly the only two original cast members to return) and though Bill Paterson does a good enough job as Private Frazer he isn’t nearly as cadaverous or miserly enough as the original.

Catherine Zeta Jones has a timeless look that perfectly translates to the 1940s, and has always been quite a adept at playing women who aren’t afraid to use their looks to get what they want and there are plenty other female characters, most notably Felicity Montagu as Mrs Mainwaring and Sarah Lancashire as Pike’s mum.

A great cast doesn’t necessarily translate into a great film however and Dad’s Army’s main problem is its twee plotting and plodding direction. There are literally no surprises here. Seriously, if you don’t twig who the spy is within about 2 minutes you should be ashamed of yourselves, and the film trades on a cosy, inoffensive, familiarity, as if it didn’t dare do anything that might besmirch the original. Ironically it might have been better, or at least more memorable, if it had trodden on the original a little or taken a few risks in order to gain its own identity.

And then there’s the direction, which is ok but the film features several ‘action’ set pieces that are anything but. An early scene featuring a rogue bull meanders, and the finale has to be one of the lamest gun battles I’ve ever seen!

And yet…I did laugh, I laughed a fair bit if I’m honest, and there was more than a tinge of pleasing nostalgia about the film that means I liked it more than I really ought to have done.

It’s well acted, occasionally amusing, and completely inoffensive, but really it’s not a film that needed to be made.

  1. I’m still tempted! Probably for the nostalgia…

    • starkers70 says:

      It’s about as gentle and inoffensive a film as you might ever hope to see. I did giggle a few times, and it’s well cast but I think it’ll work just as well, possibly even better, on the small screen.

  2. Damon says:

    Good review! I shall watch it when it comes out on TV…

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