Movie Review: Dad’s Army (2016)

“Don’t panic!”

1 Stars
Dad's Army (2016)

Dad’s Army (2016)


Director: Oliver Parker

Cast: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bill Nighy, Toby Jones, Michael Gambon

Synopsis: The Walmington-on-Sea Home Guard platoon deal with a visiting female journalist and a German spy as World War II draws to its conclusion.

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There’s no getting away from the fact that the history of movies based on British sit-coms is not a happy one.   The half-hour format of most TV comedy shows is ideal for self-contained stories revolving around one key plot point which is satisfactorily resolved 20 seconds before the end credits roll, but remains stubbornly problematic for filmmakers who have 90 minutes to fill.   They invariably attempt to do so by opening up the story, usually introducing new characters, or placing established characters in unfamiliar surroundings, which pretty much defeats the object of making a movie based on the sit-com.   Fortunately, while Oliver Parker’s belated updating of the old 1970s TV favourite Dad’s Army does introduce a number of new characters with varying degrees of success, it manages to retain the cosy feel and gentle humour of the original series.

The new cast of the 2016 Dad’s Army movie is made up to resemble the original cast, but all the actors involved wisely refrain from attempting to imitate their predecessors too closely.   Toby Jones (Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), whose physical resemblance to Arthur Lowe is tempered by his comparatively high-pitched voice, gives Captain Mainwaring the perfect blend of gallantry and pomposity, so that while we might laugh at his antics he never loses our sympathy.   Bill Nighy (Total Recall, About Time) is suitably fey and distracted as the effete Sergeant Wilson, who finds his comfortable if unexciting life turned upside down by the arrival in Walmington of the glamorous Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones – Ocean’s Twelve, Broken City), his former student at Oxford who is writing an article about the Home Guard for The Lady magazine.   The plot sees all the men of the ramshackle Walmington Home Guard falling over themselves to win favour with Rose as they prepare for one of the most important missions in their history.

Although, with the exception of young Pike (Blake Harrison – Keeping Rosy), the remaining members of the platoon each receives only a small amount of screen time in which to make an impression, they all manage to bring something new to their roles while retaining the essence of the original character.   The introduction of a number of new female characters is not quite so successful, however.   While the role of Mrs Pike (Sarah Lancashire) is successfully expanded, the inclusion of Mrs. Mainwaring, one of the great unseen figures of British comedy (played with appropriately stern authoritarianism by Felicity Montagu – Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa) adds nothing new to the mix.   A little too much attention is also paid to Catherine Zeta-Jones, whose touch of Hollywood glamour is pleasing on the eye, but a little incongruous when situated in a sleepy war-time seaside town.

Updating such a beloved part of Britain’s modern cultural history was a huge gamble on the part of its makers, and while the 2016 version of Dad’s Army never comes close to reaching the sublime heights attained by the TV show at its peak, it does provide a pleasant serving of old-fashioned humour.    Hamish McColl’s screenplay remains surprisingly faithful to the tone and pace of the Dad’s Army TV series, with a script which aims mostly for gentle laughs rather than belly laughs.   Ironically, this largely successful attempt to recreate the show’s unique humour will largely limit its appeal to those who fondly recall the original platoon bumbling their way through 80 episodes in the 1960s and ’70s, while anyone under 40 will wonder what all the fuss was about.

(Reviewed 16th February 2016)

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