Dad’s Army – 2016
Director: Oliver Parker
Starring: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Catherine Zeta Jones
Words: B. Halford
It’s 1944 and in the final months of World War II, German forces initiate Operation Cobra, sending a spy over to the United Kingdom to spy on British forces. Meanwhile, in the small English town Walmington-On-Sea, the local division of the Home Guard (known colloquially as Dad’s Army) are shaken by the arrival of a glamorous reporter (C. Jones) in town.
The history of British sit-coms being adapted to the big screen is a shaky one indeed. When discussing the history of British cinema, the multiple transitions from the small screen to the big are regarded as something of a national nadir, with Holiday On The Buses (1972) actually being something of a short-hand term for the absolute worst in British comedy films. With Dad’s Army being a popular favourite of the time, it also received an adaptation in 1971 which was rather warmly received even if it was never as loved as its parent. This time around, little has changed. This new Dad’s Army is far from terrible but decidedly lives in the shadow of the far superior TV series.
Perhaps the thing that became the main talking point upon the film’s announcement was the casting. Given the higher-than-average age of the main cast, the major roles are populated by some of British cinema’s old guard and the performances contain a mixture of actors doing dorect caricatures of the original roles (Toby Jones’ Captain Mainwaring) to actors simply sticking to the style for which they’re best known and reinterpreting the role (in particular Bill Nighy playing Seargent Wilson as Bill Nighy). As such, the performances will probably not resolutely upset or thrill anyone in regards to authenticity however Tom Courtenay does manage to provide a fresh spin on Clive Dunn’s iconic role of Jones, both making it his own whilst also not playing into his usual mode.
On the other hand is the film’s approach and differences to the show at large. One of the issues when it comes adapting something into a film, especially a TV show is to how to make it different. Often times, an increase in budget means an increase in scale and this is true of Dad’s Army. It may not be a Spielbergian World War II drama, but the staging is far grander than on its parent show and so it loses some of that friction, tension and energy much as how the first series of Blackadder, which its larger scale and budget falls flat against its cheaper but snappier successive series. In introducing a larger threat than on the traditional series, it detracts from something of the parochial charm of the show and also breaks some cardinal rules including the appearance of Mainwaring’s till-then-never-seen wife, though ably played by Felicity Montagu.
In all honesty, Dad’s Army is best taken in the spirit of an affectionate tribute piece. The films’s attempts at recapturing the magic and strength of the TV series is decidedly lacking but you can till tell there is definite love there and an attempt to get back to that same feeling. When the film also drives towards something more ambitious in the film’s closing act feels somewhat half-baked but you always feel that the filmmakers are trying and much like the bumbling fictional characters they have attempted to revive for the big screen, there is still something awkwardly endearing about their honourable failing.