Doing a new take on beloved characters is always a risky move – just look at the abuse hurled at the new Ghostbusters cast before anyone’s even seen the film. The prospect of a new take on Dad’s Army, meanwhile, elicited much tutting and mutterings of “this won’t end well” – a gentle disparagement befitting the classic British sitcom. Unfortunately, in this case, the cynicism turned out to be accurate...
The problem isn’t with the cast. If you’re going to make Dad’s Army today, Toby Jones is the perfect Mainwaring; he nails the Home Guard captain’s frustration and lack of authority, plus shows off a surprising talent for slapstick pratfalls. As the charming, Oxford-educated Wilson, Bill Nighy is a great counter to Mainwaring (it’s not a British comedy without some class struggle, after all), while the likes of Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon and ex-Inbetweener Blake Harrison fill up the team nicely, though often seem to be doing impressions of the original cast rather than anything particularly new. Where the film does differ from the ‘70s incarnation – and to its benefit – is by giving greater focus to the female characters than the sitcom ever did; Catherine Zeta-Jones entertains as a wily Nazi spy, while Felicity Montagu (of I’m Alan Partridge fame) gets more to do than you’d expect as Mainwaring’s long-suffering wife.
The plot feels like a sitcom episode stretched out longer than it ever should have been; Zeta-Jones’ Rose Winters embeds herself in Walmington-on-Sea under the guise of a journalist, writing a feature on the Home Guard, and over the course of the film, everyone in the platoon obliviously falls for her.
It’s all just an excuse for the series of comedy set pieces, really, and that’s the main problem – they’re just not funny enough. The gags are never any riskier than an innuendo about jam roly-poly, and the outcomes of the physical set pieces are as foreseeable as the twists in the plot. All the catchphrases (and the theme tune, of course) are trotted out, but feel like a desperate attempt to mine for nostalgia. Half an hour after viewing, you’d be hard-pressed to recall the funniest moments of the film, because nothing ever elicits laughs, only chuckles.
So although its astute casting ensures it’s at least watchable, Dad’s Army is not much more than a poor imitation of the original. If you want a fresh, modern comedy, this isn’t it, and if you want something that resembles the classic sitcom, then, well, watch the classic sitcom again. It’s much better than this.
Special Features: Featurettes
DAD’S ARMY / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: OLIVER PARKER / SCREENPLAY: HAMISH MCCOLL / STARRING: TOBY JONES, BILL NIGHY, CATHERINE ZETA-JONES, MICHAEL GAMBON / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 13TH