Friday, 12 February 2016
Last night, I saw the Dad's Army film and, like many people of my generation, I have mixed feelings about it. I love the TV series and it can be repeated forever and I guarantee it would still make me smile. The casting is set in stone in my head and when I heard about the film, my shoulders and heart sank in tandem. How on earth could such a venture work without Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, Clive Dunn, John Laurie, Arnold Ridley, James Beck, Ian Lavender (although he does have a small part in the new film as a brigadier), Bill Pertwee and Frank Williams (another small part as a vicar)? The truth is it doesn't. The film has a cast to die for - Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring, Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson, Michael Gambon as Private Godfrey, Tom Courtenay as Corporal Jones, Daniel Mays as Private Walker, Blake Harrison as Private Pike, Bill Paterson as Private Frazer, as well as firm support from Sarah Lancashire, Felicity Montagu, Alison Steadman, Annette Crosbie, Julia Foster and many more. The film's script is the problem. It is a mixture of mild humour, slapstick moments with a sort of Eagle Has Landed storyline about a German spy, topped off with sometimes clumsy nods to the original cast's catchphrases. The premise of the TV version was that this was a squad of old codgers subjected to inept leadership and an inevitability that whatever they did would be a hopeless failure, albeit with the occasional bit of luck that saw some of their escapades succeeding against the odds. By expanding the idea from small to big screen and showing the characters as heroes in shoot-outs and explosive beach battles, ebbed the charm away very quickly. Catherine Zeta-Jones, as the femme fatale spy, played her part very well but, one of the most uneasy moments came when she slugged a girl on the head with a gun. Such blatant violence in a Dad's Army yarn is unthinkable. I read (before I saw the film) that there was a debate about gender balance in the movie and, as before, my shoulders and heart sank. It's DAD'S Army for God's sake and not wishing to deny women's roles in the war effort, this comedy idea was based on a specific take on a section of the male effort. Anyway, for whatever reason, modern political correctness or otherwise, the women helped to save the day. Hooray. The film is okay entertainment and it was wise of the producers to fill the screen with famous faces to sell it to us. Using familiar actors in major and minor roles helped me to enjoy it all to a point. For me, Michael Gambon stood out as Godfrey, although he did play him as more bonkers than slow. Toby Jones was a bit mixed in his impersonation of Arthur Lowe as Mainwaring and Bill Nighy was Bill Nighy (as usual) and not as close as he could have been to John Le Mesurier's Wilson. Tom Courtenay as Jones was a misfire. Daniel Mays played a good Walker. Blake Harrison was an okay Pike and Bill Paterson was not bad as Frazer, although lifting his kilt and waving his bum at the Germans was a bit too far from the original innocence of TV's Dad's Army. As I said before, the script was the problem and I hope and pray that Dad's Army II is not even being considered. I'll keep an eye out for more of the television repeats and remind myself that sometimes it is not wise to mess too much with a classic.