Based upon the wartime sitcom, Dad’s Army was released in 2016 and stars some of the crème-de la-crème of British stage, screen and TV. Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Annette Crosbie are amongst the cast members with The Inbetweeners’ Blake Harrison stepping into the role of Private Pike.
I have done a full review of the sitcom series of Dad’s Army and gave it my rare 10/10 rating because it is a true classic of TV comedy. It is in a breed of its own. It manages to take the very real scenario of World War II and make it actually funny. Watching the episodes is something I have been doing since I first arrived on this planet and as I said in my review of the TV series they are as funny now as they were then. So for there to be a film coming out which was based upon that timeless classic I was naturally dubious, however, with so much British talent behind the film surely it could do the show justice, right??
Join me as we jump back to the 1940s to find out…
Captain George Mainwaring and his platoon are still keeping up their vigil along their stretch of the British coastline by their home town of Walmington-on-Sea. It is summer 1944 and unbeknown to the platoon the Invasion of Normandy is only a short time away. For Mainwaring and his troops they are struggling with a lack of luck, appreciation and they are feeling useless. But then a mysterious and beautiful woman, Rose Winters, arrives and informs the men that she is a journalist that is doing an article based around the actions of the platoon.
The men are all charmed by her, especially Mainwaring and Wilson (who has some history with her already) which causes tension in the town especially amongst the wives and girlfriends of the platoon.
Meanwhile MI5 have uncovered a radio signal being transmitted from Walmington to Berlin which they believe to be the work of an enemy spy. Mainwaring is informed of the spy, and is delighted at the prospect of being able to make a real difference in the war. He and his platoon begin the search for the spy who “could be anyone” but naturally things don’t go according to plan…
Okay, I might as well get the good out of the way first, the cast are obviously trying to do justice to a timeless classic and like I said there are some heavy hitters in the cast. The highlight of these for me is Michael Gambon as Private Godfrey, he manages to capture the essence of the character portrayed by Arnold Ridley in the show, but at the same time is able to make the role his own. He did make me laugh out loud a couple of time, however, I could have done without actually seeing him being “excused” at one point when he mistakes Corporal Jones as a tree and pees on him. Something about watching an older man peeing just doesn’t tickle my funny bone but maybe I’m just old fashioned.
The majority of the original cast have all passed away but two of the surviving members return. Ian Lavender who portrayed Private Pike cameos as Brigadier Pritchard but Frank Williams actually returns to reprise the role he had in the show as the Vicar, Timothy Farthing. It was a surprise to see but it was a welcome return. It does go to show how much the original cast still love the series they were a part of years ago, and whilst the Vicar’s role is relatively small it is nice to see him appear.
Right, so that is the good, now let’s take a look at the bad…
I am a big fan of the show, and have said that I hate it when Hollywood take things and screw with them. The Terminator franchise limps on as it cannot be left alone, Spider-Man had a trilogy, then was rebooted, and has since been rebooted again. I could go on and on, the point is that sequels and reboots continue to be churned out. In my opinion certain things should be left alone to have their moment in the sun and then be allowed to end, and Dad’s Army is one of those things. I was therefore sitting there watching the film picking holes in almost everything that I was seeing.
The problem with this film is that is based on something that is loved by so many. So the cast have two major problems, One: they are going to be compared to the original actors and Two: the characters are hugely popular so they cannot really make the roles their own. I think the best examples of this were Bill Nighy as Wilson and Blake Harrison as Pike. John Le Mesurier was effortlessly charming as Wilson, he carried himself in a way which made you truly believe that he was the ladies man he portrayed (as Le Mesurier apparently was in real life). Bill Nighy is clearly doing an impression of Le Mesurier, he is trying his best to be as charming as he was, unfortunately he comes across as someone doing an impression of someone else. He lacks the charm that made Wilson so much fun to watch. He is clearly trying but he just doesn’t pull it off.
However, with Harrison the problem is almost the exact opposite. Private Pike in the sitcom was a classic momma’s boy, he was shy around women, when one tried to seduce him in a later series he didn’t have any idea what to do, and he was always complaining that he would “tell [his] mum” if someone tried to make him do something that he didn’t want to do. Here Harrison portrays Pike as a wanna-be ladies man, he arrives on Winter’s doorstep when he thinks she sent him a note asking him to meet her without hesitation. In the film’s climax he even risks his life to save his sweetheart when she is in trouble and kisses her in the surf once she is safe. There is no way that the Pike Lavender portrayed would behave like that. So if the cast try to imitate the actors that made the characters so loved then they are fighting a losing battle, and if they try something different they are missing the point of what made the characters so popular in the first place. Basically they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Unfortunately the problems I have with the film don’t end with the cast trying to imitate the actors that came before them or trying to do something different.
In the show we never saw Mrs Mainwaring, she was on the end of the phone sometimes, and was described a couple of times but like Maris in Frasier she was never seen leading the audience to make up their own minds about what she looked like. It was implied that she was the one who ruled the roost with Mainwaring her down-trodden husband, in this film we see Mrs Mainwaring. She is the Chief Volunteer of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, and is far more pompous, domineering and vociferous than Mainwaring himself is. In all honesty I cannot say that I disliked her character but what you don’t see is more interesting than what you do. We had no idea what she looked like in the show and so you can create this image of a real nightmare wife whereas this Mrs Mainwaring is just normal woman. Yes she is pompous, yes she is domineering, but in the film’s climax she is able to assist her husband by coming to the aid of his Home Guard platoon so it shows that underneath her tougher outer shell she does care about him rather than the two of them just kind-of existing together like they did in the series
In addition to Pike being portrayed differently both Captain Mainwaring and Wilson have their heads turned by Winter. It seems as though no one in Walmington-on-Sea has ever seen an attractive woman before because all of them turn to mush whenever Winter walks past or speaks to them. I could possibly understand a teenager behaving like this, or even Wilson as he has a past with her, but Mainwaring?? He has had his moments in the show, he did start to fall for a woman in one episode, but she was his own age and had the we-will-never-surrender attitude that Mainwaring respects so much. She wasn’t just a pretty face, but that is exactly what Winter is, she is a pretty face that reduces all the men around her to jabbering idiots.
A plot involving a pretty woman manipulating men until she gets rumbled has been seen time and time again. It isn’t an interesting idea and the film suffers because of it. We are shown that Winter is the spy so this isn’t a comedy who-is-the-spy which would have potentially worked much better. There were ideas like this in the show, but a pretty smile distracting every man in Walmington-on-Sea is not engaging and you just know that sooner or later she will get caught anyway when people see through her lies. By the way, on that point she is possibly the worst spy ever because the moment Godfrey’s sisters (one of them played by Annette Crosbie) do a tiny amount of investigating they discover that she orders clothes and has them delivered to Berlin so deduce she is the spy. If a couple of aging senior citizens were able to rumble her then she clearly is not a very good spy, plus, she is English so we have no idea why she has decided to betray her country to the Nazis. How she became disillusioned with her own people is never explored and we never find out what her motivations behind her spying actually are.
I’ll admit that I was heavily bias against this film, I didn’t want to see it in the first place because I didn’t want to see something that I really enjoy being given a Hollywood style makeover that completely missed every point going and butchered the source material. This isn’t what happened, I genuinely think that the makers of Dad’s Army were not trying to cash-in on the original show and were trying to bring Dad’s Army back to the forefront of people’s attention as best they could. Sadly, for me, it just doesn’t work. Dad’s Army exists as a sitcom that first hit TV screens in 1968 and should have been left as it was. I didn’t hate the film but my viewing was tainted by my attachment to the show, giving the film a Thumbs Down seems unnecessarily harsh so I will leave my Thumb Horizontal.
5/10 – A pretty woman manipulating men until she gets rumbled, that plot is about as interesting as butter sandwich. The cast are trying to both honour the original cast and/or give the characters their own slant but neither really works. The film was always fighting an uphill struggling when it comes to impressing me enough to recommend it, if you aren’t familiar with the show it can’t hurt to check out the film, but my advice is cut out the film and head straight to the nearest boxset of the TV show.