Director: Oliver Parker
Stars: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Gambon, Blake Harrison, Tom Courtenay, Daniel Mays, Bill Paterson, Felicity Montagu
The Walmington-on-Sea platoon are tasked to deal with the threat of a Nazi spy who is trying to gather information on an army base nearby. Meanwhile, a beautiful journalist (Zeta-Jones) is visiting the town to write a report about the home guard, causing quite the stir among the men and the women who love them.
Dad’s Army is one of my favourite tv shows of all time so when I heard they were making a movie about it I was quite excited, especially when I heard some of the casting news. Then I saw the first couple of trailers and the excitement quickly diminished, but sometimes trailers can be misleading so I went to see it and it’s not as bad as I feared it would be. The plot is admittedly thin, although I am glad they didn’t go the route of simply remaking one of the existing stories, and thankfully the surprise isn’t kept a secret for very long. It also is not an origin story, which I also appreciated. However, I am disappointed that there are so few men shown in the platoon (the main characters plus a few others).
Affection is shown to the original series with a cute nod to the title sequence and appearances by Ian Lavender and Frank Williams, who reprises his role as the Reverend. There are familiar faces but also some new ones as well, for finally Elizabeth Mainwaring appears on screen! I was unsure about this at first because I like the running joke that she never appears (a common trope in sitcoms) but Montagu does manage to live up to expectations and gives a performance completely opposite to her character in I’m Alan Partridge. Through her, the film gives some weight to the efforts of the women in the war as well, which was something not touched upon a great deal in the original show.
The cast is…good and bad. There’s a lack of chemistry between them, especially compared with the original show (although of course that’s to be expected to a degree since it is difficult to reflect bonds forged over years of working together). Toby Jones is excellent as Mainwaring and one of the main reasons why the film is as enjoyable as it is. He perfectly channels Arthur Lowe and shows some good displays of physical comedy. Bill Nighy was okay as Sergeant Wilson, although there were many times where he seemed to basically be playing a toned down version of his character in Love, Actually. Harrison and Gambon were the other standouts as Pike and Godfrey respectively, and I thought they completely nailed the characters. Mays and Paterson, as Walker and Frazer, were decent although I don’t think that Paterson depicted the meanness of Frazer. The biggest disappointment though was Courtenay as Jones. Although the show was an ensemble Jones was always the heart of it, but Courtenay didn’t manage to capture the bumbling good-heartedness of the character. Perhaps that is due to it being a feature film and having to place focus mostly on Rose Winter, Mainwaring, and Wilson, but Courtenay had no screen presence at all and showed nothing of why Jones is such a beloved character.
There are a lot of instances where classic catchphrases are shoehorned in, for example there’s one point at which Jones blurts out ‘They don’t like it up ’em’ and it seems entirely out of context. But I have to admit that I did have a smile on my face when I saw the butcher’s van come onto the screen.
As an exercise in nostalgia Dad’s Army succeeds, mostly to the efforts of Toby Jones who really does a fine portrayal of Mainwaring. But the positives of the film only come from the fact that it echoes the greatness of the show. While it’s fun to see the spirit of the characters brought to life again, it does pale in comparison with the original material and as a whole I don’t think the cast broke out enough as an ensemble to prove that they can sustain a series of films. I don’t imagine that there will be a sequel to this, but there is enjoyment to be had for fans of the original show. I would be interested to see how it is received from people who are unfamiliar with tv series though.