UK Release Date: 5th February 2016
Runtime: 100 minutes
Director: Oliver Parker
Writer: Hamish McColl
Starring: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Caherine Zeta Jones, Michael Gambon, Blake Harrison, Tom Courtenay, Daniel Mays, Bill Paterson, Felicity Montagu, Mark Gatiss
Synopsis: A devious spy causes friction within the local Home Guard as an attractive reporter arrives on the scene.
It probably seemed like a really good idea to remake Dad’s Army for the big screen. The idea almost certainly only seemed to get better when the project snared a cast of many of Britain’s best living actors. With beloved source material and actors who cannot fail to bring the goods, the stage seemed set for a classic of British comedy. Unfortunately, the final movie is a bizarre case in which absolutely nothing seems to work.
Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) leads a Home Guard unit in a sleepy seaside town. When glamorous journalist Rose Winters (Catherine Zeta-Jones) turns up to write an article on the unit, Mainwaring butts heads with second in command Sergeant Wilson (Bill Nighy). Colonel Theakes (Mark Gatiss) threatens to shut down Mainwaring’s team, but a German spy plot is uncovered, giving them a chance to make a real difference to the war.
Dad’s Army is about as gentle a comedy film as it’s possible to come across. Like a cream cake, there isn’t a single sharp edge on the entire confection. It is precision-tooled to appeal to the same grey pound crowd that made a success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but it isn’t interested in pushing the definition of that demographic in any way.
| “We don’t know what they look like. That’s rather the point with spies.”
All of the above wouldn’t be a problem if the comedy worked. However, Hamish McColl’s script too often seems to be on a wild goose chase, reaching for punchlines that simply are not there. Considering that his last film job was on the genuinely sweet script for Paddington with Paul King, it’s all the more upsetting that Dad’s Army never manages the same mastery in creating the perfect parochial comedy. There’s also a distinct flaw in the plotting, in that it reveals a crucial detail to the audience early on, ridding the story of any suspense it could otherwise have had.
The cast are all on game form, albeit struggling with material that never matches their talents. Toby Jones puts on an impressive slapstick turn as Mainwaring and does an able job of holding the film together. Bill Nighy is an amiable foil, but little more, whilst Blake Harrison and Michael Gambon are given little to do beyond getting a couple of goofy moments for the trailer.
The big innovation of Dad’s Army 2016 in much of the publicity was the choice to move a series of female characters from the periphery into the centre of the narrative. Whilst this is, on paper, a solid creative decision, it doesn’t have much of an impact on the storytelling. In fact, it isn’t until the final stages of the story that the likes of Felicity Montagu, Emily Atack and Alison Steadman really make an impression on the plot.
| “This is it – our chance to play a real part in this war.”
Despite the best of intentions, Dad’s Army is a bland and distinctly uninteresting attempt to revive a classic comedy. It never generates any intrigue, emotion or anything in the humour stakes beyond a bit of a chuckle. There’s nothing beyond simple nostalgia in this largely witless endeavour that justifies its existence – and that isn’t enough of an excuse.
Pop or Poop?
If there were awards dished out for trying really hard, Dad’s Army would almost certainly deserve one of them. However, the film fails as comedy, drama and nostalgia exercise all at the same time. The cast tries their level best but, much like the Home Guard depicted in the film, this is all bluster and no impact.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.