The TV series Dad’s Army was a work of comedy genius. It boasted an ensemble cast up there with Cheers, Seinfeld, M.A.S.H. and evenThe Office. It’s part of TV folklore. It presented men dressed in uniforms not as heroes but as bumbling fools. The posters may have said Keep Calm and Carry On, but if the Nazis had made it over the Channel, the old duffers and dodgers of The Home Guard would have been neither use nor ornament. When it first ran, in the late 1960s, it was considered somewhat edgy, and though it never laid claim to the satirical territory mapped out by M.A.S.H. it had a gentle subversiveness to it.
Turning a much-loved TV classic into a movie is always a tricky business, but my hopes were high when I saw the casting for this last year, most of which seemed inspired. As it turns out Michael Gambon is a right laugh as the dithering Godfrey and Toby Jones is so superb as Captain Mainwaring I began to think that he could single-handedly win the war on lameness. It was a valiant effort, but as Fraser might say, it was “doomed” to fail.
There is fun to be had in rating the various imposters posing as, say, Sergeant Wilson (Bill Nighy, good), or his nephew Pike (Blake Harrison, average). Bill Paterson gets the tone right as the humorless Scottish undertaker Fraser, but Tom Courtney’s Jones lacks energy.
Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn’t help things, as usual.
Another sport to wile away the time is waiting for those classic lines, like the “stupid boy” that Wilson lays on Pike and the “DON’T PANIC, DON’T PANIC!” of the nervous Jones. But the returns are diminishing.
I took my elderly mum to the film, and she enjoyed it well enough, but noted, “there’s not much of a story, is there?” And then, the ultimate measure of the older reviewer, “it’s not a patch on the Marigold ones”. Given that the same director, (Oliver Parker) and some of the cast (Nighy) are present, that’s obviously the market this is aimed at. Call it a miss.