Director: Oliver Parker
Stars: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon
Duration: 140 mins
KRS Releasing Ltd
I would hazard a guess that Dad’s Army, the BBC sitcom that ran from 1968 to 1977, needs no introduction. Its success spawned a radio version, a 1971 feature film and a stage show. Created by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, during its peak years the sitcom attracted audiences of 18 million viewers and went on to become a national treasure. It still is, with reruns on today, at times still gaining substantial audiences in the 3 million bracket.
It was these figures that inspired producer Damian Jones to explore the possibility of creating another big screen version, 40 years after the original show ended and, with the permission of the original creators, they forged ahead, with ultimately mixed results.
True fans may find themselves a bit short-changed by the 21st century version of the wartime comedy.
It is May 1944 and the Allies make their final preparations to invade France, carrying out a campaign of deliberate misinformation – titled Operation Bodyguard – to prevent the Nazis discovering where they planned to invade. The allies learn of a Nazi spy who has infiltrated the seaside town of Walmington-on-Sea and it is up to the town’s Home Guard platoon – a ragtag mix of volunteers led by Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) – to prevent the spy discovering the truth behind Operation Bodyguard. In the meantime, the townsfolk are distracted by the arrival of a glamorous journalist Rose Winters, in the guise of Catherine Zeta Jones., in town to write an article about the Home Guard.
True fans may find themselves a bit shortchanged by the 21st century version of the wartime comedy
While the script by Hamish McColl provides some sporadic chuckles, for all the pratfalls, droll dialogue and the naughty innuendo that permeates proceedings, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that it was all a little forced. The comedy is a little too obvious, the plot is razor-thin and the story never takes advantage of its film-length running time, and often it feels like a normal episode stretched to breaking point.
That said, I cannot fault the ensemble cast, led by the indefatigable Jones, who brings a combination of heart and pathos to the comedy of a man desperate to contribute to the war effort but blissfully unaware of his shortcomings. If the languid lothario type is the sort Bill Nighy can play in his sleep; he does it so effortlessly it’s always worth watching.
Michael Gambon does provide some endearing moments of laughter as the rather befuddled Private Godfrey, whose idea of camouflage includes what looks like it was inspired by the Hawaiian national costume.
Able support is provided by Tom Courtenay as Corporal Jones, Bill Paterson as Private Frazer, Blake Harrison as Private Pike and Daniel Mays as the enterprising Joe Walker; and the chemistry that runs amid the platoon is obvious, the cast, veterans and newcomers alike, sparking easily off one another.
Catherine Zeta Jones does her best pouting as the elegant visitor to who has virtually all members of the platoon salivating after her, much to the disgruntlement of their respective wives. The latter, unlike in the sitcom where they were rarely seen, have a much bigger contribution to give here, all forming part of the Women’s Auxiliary led by Mainwaring’s no-nonsense wife Elizabeth (Felicity Montagu). It’s certainly a tight ensemble, one that was deserving of a better script.
The legacy of the show means that, in all probability, the film will find an audience, But, in its attempts to recapture the nostalgia of the original while repackaging it for 21st Century audiences, it begs the question: who exactly is this audience?