Dad’s Army

OUT NOW / CERT. PG / 100 MINS.

Empire (UK) - - IN CINEMAS - NICK DE SEMLYEN

DI­REC­TOR Oliver Parker CAST Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-jones, Michael Gam­bon, Blake Har­ri­son

PLOT Walm­ing­ton-on-sea, 1944. With Al­lied forces poised to in­vade Nazi-held France, the fate of the world lies in the hands of a Home Guard unit filled with cretins. Don’t panic!

OVER NINE YEARS’ worth of Dad’s Army episodes, Cap­tain Main­war­ing at­tempted to turn a bunch of fools, kooks and ge­ri­atrics into a deadly fight­ing unit. Oliver Parker, di­rec­tor of the un­likely new re­boot, faced an even more for­mi­da­ble task. How to han­dle a brand viewed by many as fuddy-duddy, and by fans as un­touch­able?

Rather than rein­vent the roles, Parker and his team cast stars who closely re­sem­ble the orig­i­nal en­sem­ble. Sev­eral of the picks are in­spired. Toby Jones tones down Main­war­ing’s mean­ness and plays up the phys­i­cal com­edy, dis­play­ing a hith­erto un­tapped ap­ti­tude for chalk­board-based slap­stick. Blake Har­ri­son, fa­mous for play­ing a dif­fer­ent stupid boy in The In­be­tween­ers, has a ball as iconic twit Pike. And Michael Gam­bon is per­fect as God­frey, waft­ing through scenes with an air of be­fud­dled ge­nial­ity. Other per­for­mances are less im­pres­sive: Tom Courte­nay in par­tic­u­lar is weirdly muted as Jones, as if he re­alised he had no chance of match­ing the bel­li­cose-goose an­tics of his pre­de­ces­sor, Clive Dunn.

As for the plot, it’s mod­er­ately en­ter­tain­ing bunkum about a Nazi spy, whose iden­tity is re­vealed very early on, but re­ally amounts to lit­tle more than an ex­cuse to have the whole cast moon over Catherine Zeta-jones’ vix­en­ish jour­nal­ist. That as­pect was clearly in­spired by clas­sic se­ries four episode Mum’s Army from 1970, down to some funny busi­ness in­volv­ing Main­war­ing’s spec­ta­cles, but the en­tire thing is stud­ded with ref­er­ences. Some are sub­tle (a line about weaponised black pep­per), some very much not (most of the catch­phrases are in­el­e­gantly wheeled out). Screen­writer Hamish Mccoll does his best work with the fraught re­la­tion­ship be­tween the puffed-up Main­war­ing and his up­per-class un­der­ling Wil­son (Bill Nighy). “It has been a bit lax,” says the lat­ter in one scene. “No need for Latin here, Wil­son,” huffs his com­man­der in re­sponse.

But de­spite a smat­ter­ing of sharp lines and nice mo­ments, as a whole it’s an inessen­tial odd­ity — ami­able enough but also over-rev­er­en­tial and un­likely to leave a last­ing im­pres­sion. And with noth­ing more edgy than in­nu­endo in­volv­ing roly-poly pud­ding, its best chance of suc­cess is prob­a­bly with older au­di­ences.

VER­DICT It has a strong, game cast but this is karaoke film­mak­ing, trad­ing on nos­tal­gia rather than break­ing new ter­ri­tory. Af­fa­ble but for­get­table.

Fools, kooks and ge­ri­atrics: Cap­tain Main­war­ing (Toby Jones) and the gang.

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