Film review: Dad’s Army

New Dad's Army film

It’s 1944 and the Home Guard platoon of Walmington-on-Sea are on full alert as there is a German spy in their midst and they have to catch him!

The original TV series ran for 80 episodes from 1968 to 1977 and became one of the best-loved comedy shows in British TV history. These episodes have been re-run almost constantly since. This means that more than two generations of viewers, not just in Britain but around the world, have grown up watching these characters with their endearing mannerisms and catch phrases. I was therefore very surprised when I learnt that this was to be made a film, as there was a very real danger that in the wrong hands a valued legacy could be tarnished.

It was very reassuring to know that the executive production team included, not only Jimmy Perry himself (one of the original writing duo) but also Ann Croft and Penny Croft, the former wife and daughter respectively of the late David Croft (the second co-writer of the original TV series). Oliver Parker was named as the film’s director with the screenplay to be written by his former collaborator on ‘Johnny English Reborn’, Hamish McColl. All good so far, but we need some talented and respected actors to pull this off.

To say that the cast of this film is a ‘Who’s Who’ of British acting talent is a huge understatement. This was the final clause of the producers’ insurance policy as the reputations of these fine actors were surely too big to fail. So I can put you out of your misery now by saying that these stalwarts of the British TV and movie industry did not let us down.

The plot of the film is thin but serves to elevate the significance of the platoon from that of local importance to national. Although there is pleasing farce and physical comedy in the film, most usually in the hands of the superb Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring, it is not what the characters do in this film that matters, but how they do it. The success of this comedy relies solely on the ability of the actors, as the script often misses the mark. This is most notable with the character of Lance Corporal Jones played by Tom Courtenay. The role is played too naturalistically for some of his bizarre lines to be funny.

Dad's Army

Starring Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring and Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson

My reaction to the news that Bill Nighy was to play Sergeant Wilson was the same as when I heard that Zachary Quinto was to play Spock in the Star Trek reboot; “perfect casting”. Nighy is nigh perfect in his role as the often vague and unwittingly desirable ex-Oxford tutor, thankfully he is given a lot of screen time. The character is allowed to breathe in the film and shows more ‘backbone’. Catherine Zeta Jones as the glamorous journalist also has a lot of screen time, getting to interact with pretty much every character, and she is wonderful. Another piece of perfect casting is Daniel Mays as Private Walker, the black market spiv. James Beck would be proud.

If I remember rightly, Captain Mainwaring’s wife Elizabeth only appears in one episode of the original TV series. She was usually the voice at the end of a telephone telling him off. However she plays a key role in this film as the head of the local women’s volunteer ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). This tough as old boots “no time for tosh” battleship of a character is brought to life by the splendid Felicity Montagu.

Unfortunately, there is no space left to talk about Michael Gambon, Mark Gatiss, Blake Harrison, Sarah Lancashire, Bill Paterson, Alison Steadman, Annette Crosbie and Julia Foster. I did warn you that it is an impressive cast. But there is just enough space for a final word about Toby Jones (Mainwaring). Jones is allowed to explore the character in more depth in this one appearance than the late, great Arthur Lowe was ever permitted to do across nine series and the original movie of 1971. He is brilliant and manages to extract the maximum comic and dramatic potential from the script. Mainwaring carries the platoon and Toby Jones carries the film.

The film had me tittering occasionally for the first half hour or so as I nervously watched the actors tread in hallowed footsteps, but there followed some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. The comedy then gets up a good head of steam so that by the film’s denouement I was unashamedly enjoying it.

I can think of no better film to watch after The Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day. Indeed I shall be writing a stern letter to the BBC if this is not the case by at least 25th December 2017.

Is it funny? Yes. Would I recommend it to a fan of the show? Yes. Would I watch it again? Absolutely, with a glass of port and a mince pie.

Stay for the credits. There are some outtakes.






Author: Simon, Norwich store.