(Warning: contains mild spoilers)
I had very low expectations of this film adaptation of the TV show Dad’s Army. The trailers didn’t do it any favours, showing off lazy gags, and making an incorrect reference to England being on the brink of defeat in 1944. Plus, the whole concept didn’t feel right. The beloved TV show felt sacred; it seemed wrong to try and recapture its appeal with a remake. But after watching through the boxset I got for Christmas, and reminding myself of the show’s appeal, I began thinking that maybe this was an unfair viewpoint. After all, I wouldn’t be thinking like that if I went to see a stage play based on Dad’s Army. So I decided to give the film a chance.
I’ve seen plenty of films that weren’t as good as I expected. But Dad’s Army rivalled Speed Racer in how much it went above my initial expectations. I loved it! And the rest of the audience were really enjoying themselves too: one man quite close to me sounded like he was having an asthma attack as he fought to stifle his near-constant laughter. Interestingly, I noticed while leaving that I was by far the youngest person in the theatre.
On the south coast of England in 1944, the Allies are planning their invasion of the continent, and Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard platoon – led by Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) and Sergeant Wilson (Bill Nighy) – are ready to do what they can to help, despite still being rather scruffy round the edges. Little do they realise that the Nazis have sent a spy into England, to learn all they can about the Allied invasion plans. Instead, the platoon are more preoccupied with the sudden arrival of a glamourous journalist, Rose Winter (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who wants to write a article about the Home Guard, and is turning male heads wherever she goes. (This is Catherine Zeta-Jones we’re talking about, after all.)
One thing that really annoyed me about the trailers was that they appeared to be insulting our intelligence, because it seemed incredibly obvious that this lady journalist was in fact the Nazi spy. And yes, she is the spy – but the film actually reveals this to the audience relatively early on rather than setting up some underwhelming third-act reveal. This was one of many ways in which the trailers just don’t do the film justice. Certainly, the jokes are a lot better than they looked. More than anything else, the film wants to make the audience laugh, and it does a good job. And it’s the exact same kind of humour as the original show used: a dash of wit and a lot of slapstick, altogether feeling overwhelmingly British. However, while the gags and setups are in the same vein as the source material, they are still fresh, rather than just repeating gags that had already been done, or relying too much on nods and winks to the audience: the old familiar catchphrases do crop up, but they’re not shoehorned in.
It’s very obvious that the filmmakers poured a lot of love for the show into this film. The new actors capture the old characters nicely and present them in their own way: Toby Jones is aiming to play Captain Mainwaring, not Arthur Lowe. While Mainwaring and Wilson get most of the focus, the rest of the platoon – Jones, Frazer, Walker, Godfrey and Pike – all get their share of good moments. The story itself is solid, and there are some interesting character developments, such as the exploration of Wilson’s relationship with Mrs Pike (Sarah Lancashire). Indeed, the female characters get more of a chance to shine than they did in the original show; and it’s not just Catherine Zeta-Jones, who gives an appropriately alluring and charming performance. Mainwaring’s wife Elizabeth (Felicity Montagu), who never appeared onscreen in the show, does have a presence here as the leader of the local ATS platoon, whose members – plus Private Godfrey’s sisters – have important roles in the plot.
Ultimately, what makes Dad’s Army great is that – contrary to what I feared – it actually had effort put into it. It pays tribute to its source material without trying to blindly copy it, and stands very well on its own as a British comedy. I had a great time watching it, and I’m very glad that my expectations were wrong. Rating: 4/5.