Dad’s Army – A Cynic’s Review

Dad’s Army has massive balls, and not just because it’s taking on Britain’s best comedy.

All that bull aside, this one-off Dad’s Army re-make draws on the audience’s nostalgic core while using the capabilities of post-CG film to make a well-crafted-but-passable spring comedy. Two German spies have infiltrated England just before the Allies make their final push: one of them is gunned down by MI5 but manages to alert the other, who is surprisingly close to Walmington-on-Sea. The only thing that stands between them and a great military secret (while looking completely the wrong way) is the Home Guard.

Rose Winters, the new and mysterious lady in Walmington-on-Sea from Dad's Army
Rose Winters, the new and mysterious lady in Walmington-on-Sea.

There are plenty of good jokes and even a few inspired moments here. I would like to applaud the director for the pigeon being shot down to the sound of “Ride of the Valkyries”. Near the beginning of the film, there is a great fake-out too, but a surprising amount of jokes fall flat. Even the cliché lines had no guarantee of a giggle. The humour was a fair amount more vulgar than the original, but tame by modern standards, benefitting from neither style. There was also a big narrative hole because they reveal the identity of the spy twenty minutes in. If this was a Columbo-esque thriller it wouldn’t have been a problem, but the whole thing plays out in a cringeful way. Nevertheless, seeing the familiar favourites from Dad’s Army being put in all manner of compromising positions didn’t fail to tickle me.

The Home Guard, led by Captain Mainwaring from Dad's Army
The Home Guard, led by Captain Mainwaring.

The casting is fabulous. Toby Jones gives us a subdued, dour Captain Mainwaring who commands as much respect as a mosquito with confidence issues. Bill Nighy makes for an excellent, affable Wilson. This is matched with Blake Harrison’s pitch-perfect Pike, who has a good chunk of the narrative devoted to his ascension to manhood, with all the pencil-drawn moustaches and slimy kisses imagined. Tom Courtenay’s Jones was a bit flat, but Bill Patterson’s Frazer more thank makes up for him, giving the finest display of Scottish glory shown in recent years. The situations these characters are placed in make good chemistry, with only a few off-moments speaking the narrative. Again, though, that big plot reveal ends up making the characters seem simplistic in a forced and unamiable way. There is also a huge inclusiveness of female characters. I’m not one of those that will rally against gender equality, but I think this has been done for no better reason than to fit the modern tone. I’m all for strong female characters, but it doesn’t really click with the canon of Dad’s Army.

Elizabeth Mainwaring leading a valiant charge from Dad's Army
Elizabeth Mainwaring leading a valiant charge.

It may seem like I’m giving this film a beating, but I do like it. This film is Dad’s Army in spirit. It differs hugely from the original and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing: it’s just showing its age a little. This isn’t the best comedy ever made, but for a cold February night’s entertainment, it’s more than good enough.

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