Dad's Army: Film Review
Cast: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta Jones, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon, Daniel Mays
Director: Oliver Parker
Broadcast between 1968 and 1977 on the BBC, David Croft and Jimmy Perry's sitcom staple Dad's Army was a much loved series about the Home Guard that captured the zeitgeist and pomposity of authority at a local level.
The 2016 film version of Dad's Army is a curious beast, coming 45 years after its last cinematic outing and unlikely to garner a new fan base and likely to appeal only to an older generation, already versed in the ways of Mainwaring, Pike and the catchphrases.
With World War II drawing to a conclusion and with the Allies poised to make one final push, the small seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea becomes a hotbed of activity for the Home Guard. With a female journalist (a wannabe vixenish Catherine Zeta Jones) visiting and winning over the troops led by Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones), there are fears there's a spy operating in the area.
Mainwaring and his woefully inept men are tasked with tracking down the spy... is this a job Dad's Army can get right?
There's something willfully old fashioned and extremely reverent about the Dad's Army movie.
From its "You have been watching" end credits nod to the TV shows of the 70s and 80s to Toby Jones' nigh-on perfect encapsulation of Arthur Lowe's pompous and self-officious Captain Mainwaring, there are plenty of moments for old fans to revel in. (Including a cameo from one of the few surviving members of the show).
But the problems extend beyond the faithful line that's adhered to throughout.
Simply put, it may coast by on affection, but there's barely enough plot to fill a 30 minute episode of the series let alone pad out a 100 minute feature film, despite everyone's best intentions.
Dad's Army feels terribly old school, a throwback to Ealing comedies with the screwball elements of the show toned down for a wider audience. But in doing so, the film fails to either capitalise on anything more than nostalgia. In fact, it feels very much like a plot from the TV series writ large but inessentially brought to the big screen.
Thankfully, the casting of the film is spot on.
Toby Jones is excellent as the pompous buffoon Mainwaring, getting the inflections of his voice down pat and bumping up some of the slapstick as well as delivering a comedic turn that benefits brilliantly from timing and plays to his strengths. He manages to turn something in that is as reverential as it is stand-alone and delights by giving the film its lead that it needs. Others, such as Courtenay, hit the beats of their characters from the past with ease; Gambon's dodderiness as Godfrey is amusing as much as it is grating.
Sadly, the script is not up to par and creaks in places as much as some of these old timers' joints potentially do too. With the smarter women played as nothing more than hen-peckers and the men as fools, it feels like a pantomime from the 1970s, a Carry On film without the grace of the innuendo to propel it through, and an excuse to shoe horn in some of the show's catchphrases with no more grace than a wink and a nod to the older end of the audience.
It's hard to see exactly who Dad's Army will appeal to.
A younger generation will avoid it, scoffing at its corniness and its yesteryear sensibilities; and the older generation, brought up so relentlessly on the continual servings of the 9 series, will feel it lacks something concrete and is nowhere near as good as it could be, given the immense talent of the ensemble involved.
It's entirely pragmatic to believe this nostalgia tinged wannabe broad appeal flick has nothing short of good intentions but its gentle and under-padded comedy unfortunately doesn't quite cut it in a savvier cinematic world and with audiences now used to subtler comedic fare.