Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Film: 'Dad's Army'.

When I first heard about this film being made my reaction was simply "Why?"

Taking the characters from one of Britain's most successful and popular TV situation comedies (9 series starting in 1968 - nearly all the original actors now being deceased; the two surviving ones having short cameo roles here), a clutch of currently moderately well-known names, some of whose faces will be familiar even if their names are not, with general physical approximations to the original actors are allotted their parts. Less an exercise in attempting authentic imitation they do their best to give a vague idea of the original players - some quite successfully, it must be said - with the original characters' individual catch-phrases inserted, though with variable effect.

This film and the TV series was set in 1944, telling of the Home Guard, the body of British men (and some women) who were not conscripted into the fighting forces due to age, disability or other reasons, and who were on ever-ready guard to defend the country in the event of a Nazi invasion. (I recall in the 60s when the idea of the series was first being mooted there was significant concern that it would be an irreverent and mocking take on the brave souls who had actually given up their time ready to defend the country - to the death, if need be. But it was accepted by viewers more in affection than ridicule).

I was uncertain of the wisdom of making this film though, of course, the motivation is to make money. At the time of the original series there was another feature film made which was moderately well-received but I found it rather flat - and, as in the case of nearly all full-length films made from a TV series, it hopelessly outstretched itself beyond any of the TV programmes' original attraction - the latter being, in effect, a series of extended vignettes, each half-hour independent of the other.. The experience always seems to be that bigger budgets emphatically do not mean funnier. In fact it's almost always the case that 'more equals less'. And so I found it with this film - a so-so product to which the large audience with which I attended reacted with polite chuckles of moderate amusement now and again (and in which I joined) but there was nothing approaching the hilarity which sometimes showed itself in the original TV programmes. (Incidentally, I don't think the BBC has ever stopped repeating the originals - and always on one of their two main channels too, and in peak-viewing time. It seems to be on some kind of permanent 'loop'.)

Now the names. The most internationally well known will be Tom Courtenay, with Bill Nighy also probably being well-recognised. Then, as the south coast's platoon's (actually filmed in Yorkshire) bumbling, self-important captain is Toby Jones. Other reasonably well-known names are Michael Gambon and Bill Patterson.

There is one major difference to the original series on which it's based. At that time, women, if they were present at all, were effectively sidelined as very minor players, many of the shows having no female appearances whatsoever. Not so here. To its credit it has one woman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, at centre-stage, as an undercover German spy, her true nature being revealed very early on in the film.
Then, also important is the Captain's wife, here (played by Felicity Montagu) a true Amazon of a figure whereas in the TV series Mrs Mainwaring, as she was, was regularly mentioned but never seen. There's also the redoubtable Alison Steadman and some other female names I recognised, all to the film's advantage, opening out the situations to beneficial effect. 
But even that can't disguise the fact that it's not a very good film - though certainly not exactly 'bad' either - which doesn't serve the original series that well. The script, lacking the inventiveness of its original writers (one of them yet survives) is clunky, especially when well-known phrases are crowbarred in - "They don't like it up 'em", "We're doomed!", "Stupid boy!" etc - and only underlines how far this film comes short of the original TV series.

Btw: This is a current British film without Ben Whishaw. Wasn't he available? A rarity indeed!

However, it's an honest effort. Director is Oliver Parker who, in recent years, has directed three of Oscar Wilde's works on film. As might be guessed, this one is too long by a good way, despite my liking for the conspicuous female presences, particularly that of Ms Z-J. But overall I must give a score that reflects it being a so-so accomplishment......................5.


  1. I hate dad's army , this is due to the fact the Prof watches rerun after re run ....he'll drag me along and i will hate it......but i am sure Gambon will make me laugh.

    Saw BRDGE OF SPIES yesterday
    Loved it

    1. (I've just commented on your 'Bridge' post, J.G.)

      Yes, Michael Gambon got probably closer to Arnold Ridley's mannerisms than any of the other cast members got to theirs. But he is a consummate actor, after all.

      I did quite like the original TV series first time round. A couple of the episodes merited a second watch, I thought - with some very funny sequences. But I couldn't watch them over and over as your Prof is doing. Enough is enough!
      I think you must be about the first I've heard of who actually 'hated' it. Big word - but there you are.

  2. I've not heard of this film or the TV show, but when you said this:
    "This is a current British film without Ben Whishaw. Wasn't he available? A rarity indeed!"
    I decided it wasn't worth it to see. =)

    1. B.W.'s presence in this would have no doubt perked it up a bit, Bob, but I can only assume he didn't look like any of the original 1960s cast. More's the pity.

  3. I think I am seeing this at the Friday matinee.

    I am scared it is awful. I am dreading them remaking Ghostbusters an all women cast I think? And then if they ruin Wonder Woman for me I shall be extremely cross.

    As always an extremely well written critique, which I much appreciate.

    Thanks Ray.

    1. I'm not looking forward to the new 'Ghostbusters' either, Sol, though not necessarily because of the female cast. Some things are better just left alone - like 'Dad's Army', for instance. But if you're a fan of the TV originals there's no reason why you won't get a handful of pleasures out of this - and, as I say, the women in this one are a delight throughout.

    2. I feel they need to leave things alone. like why have they remade spiderman again and again.... I dont get it.

    3. Dad's Army is a movie? This is the first I'm hearing about it. I remember seeing a few episodes when it ran in the states in the 1970's. I thought the device of ending each scene with a recording from that time period was a novel to me, but perhaps commonplace on British television. I'll have to watch for this one when it comes over here...Ben Whishaw or no.

    4. Sol, I'm with you.

      RTG, So you too are a fan? By 'too' I mean that I was also surprised that Dr Spo was aware of the series and wanted to read my review after I'd seen it. I didn't think this brand of humour would have been appreciated much beyond these shores. However, I'll be doubly surprised if this new film plays in theatres over there.

      Btw: I know you were talking about music links between scenes above, but you may not have known that the title song 'Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler' was specially written for the series and recorded in the late 60s with a wartime feel about it and one of our very own genuine wartime cronners, Bill Naughton.

  4. Ray,
    We here in the U.S. do the same thing when making a movie of a TV series, stretch it out. For the money of course.

    1. Ron. yes, it's sad when making a profit is a greater consideration than any quality produced. However I suppose it's we - or, in this case, me - who are to blame by paying money to view their follies. If we didn't do it they'd stop.
      Btw: This film is currently this country's top of box office receipts, which tells you all you need to know.

  5. I haven't heard of the film "Dad's Army" or the TV series, but -as always - I enjoyed your review.

    I mostly wanted to thank you for your comment on my latest post. I can fully understand the frustrating computer problems you're plagued with. My old desktop computer behaves the same way - it takes hours to do anything. Thank goodness I have a laptop.

    I'm always delighted when you visit my blog and I greatly value your input, but please don't feel compelled to comment.
    Also, it's a shame that you're presently "soundless". Hopefully someday you'll be able to watch my videos.

    I visit your blog frequently but seldom leave comments - solely because I haven't seen very many of the films that you review. I've lived in Hollywood, I know a lot about the "industry" and all the old movies of the golden era -

    I'm absolutely clueless about most of the current films and actors (actresses). I sometimes feel archaic...

    1. Thanks, Jon. Good to know that even if you haven't left a comment here you may well have visited it. I find that reassuring.

      Yes, this computer has its on and off days. Today it seems to be the former though it can't be long now before it's permanently the latter. But I've been saying that for over a year now and I'm still clinging on here, so who knows?

      I'm not sure how much longer I'll go on with these film reviews. I'm increasingly out of tune with so many films that are released nowadays - and what is additionally disturbing is that so many of the main players look to me no more than children. I'll hit 70 this year. Not yet sure whether to use that as an excuse to stop or to go on until I see my 5,000th film, which will probably be in three or four years' time - if I'm still around then. Of course there's no obligation to do either. Maybe I'll just keep going until I decide to desist.

      Thanks for this visit - and 'putting me in the picture' (as it were!).

    2. Go for 5,000 - it's a very noble goal.

    3. I hear your advice, Jon, but you don't have to go through the sometimes tedium or agony of it. I've more or less decided top give up on those films I find too distressing or disturbing, 'The Revenant' being the most recent so those which I actually really want to see is a smaller number still. But we'll play it as it goes.
      Btw: You may or may not recall my saying that in my register I only count those films seen at the cinema. Films I see for the first time on TV, even though that's ever rarer these days, do not form part of my tally.

  6. I will see it anyway. I used to watch the show, which was sandwiched on public TV between Monty Python and Are you Being served?

    1. Okay, Dr Spo. As long as you know it's but a shadow of the original, though having some commendable additional features. There should be a few things, at least, that you'll like.