The art of being able to maintain a good thing is only achievable if you know when to call it a day, when to let the curtain fall, and when to pull the plug. It seems that whoever came up with the idea of bringing the popular British television sitcom Dad’s Army to the big screen was unaware of this. When viewing the film at a large multiplex cinema in one of England’s biggest cities on its opening night, I expected to be greeted by a hustle and bustle around the film. But the empty 398 seats in an auditorium built to seat 400 seemed to foreshadow the film’s triviality.
Set in Walmington-on-Sea in 1944, the film shows the war effort of Britain’s Home Guard towards the end of World War II and how the news of a Nazi spy living in the town gives the men a chance to play their highly-anticipated part in the war. The news of a film release of Dad’s Army was an exciting form of nostalgia for older generations that had worshipped the BBC sitcom back in the late sixties. For a lot of the younger generations, they probably associate the programme as something that would be on the television screen when they visited their old Grandpa Bob or Great Uncle Jim. Whichever kind of audience group the film intended to target, it did not meet the standard of comedy and entertainment originally produced by Jimmy Perry and David Croft.
Dad’s Army was never a show based on the spectacle of action, but as a film adaptation, one would expect a little bit more than what appeared to be an extended version of a bog standard TV episode. Just when you think the plot is about to pipe up, you are sent back to listening to painful attempts of comedic dialogue and watching the characters in their aimless endeavours. I found myself laughing at the absence of funniness rather than the gags themselves as wit and comedy appeared to have taken a long-haul holiday together when this screenplay was written. I sometimes worry about accidently or subconsciously revealing plot spoilers when writing film reviews, but in this case, there aren’t any to reveal. The small climaxes in the plot that do exist: predictable. The so called “big” action: miniscule. The stab at bringing the background female characters to the spotlight is an admirable one, but it is fails on intent and creates no noticeable effect on the film’s plot.
Despite the lack of wit and action on behalf of the screenplay, the shrewdly-composed cast were able to deliver some impressive performances. Catherine Zeta-Jones elegantly plays the charismatic heartthrob for the male characters and adds a glamorous, yet dominant female to the screen. It is Toby Jones that brings the much needed sparkle to the film. His take on the original portrayal of Captain Mainwaring by Arthur Lowe is a one of great homage, and his physical clumsiness creates a nostalgic nod towards the slapstick comedy that is famously attributed to Dad’s Army. A contemporary comedic figure in the form of Blake Harrison—famously known for his role of Neil in The Inbetweeners—he enabled the character of Private Pike as a humorous form of dopiness as much as the screenplay allows. From a cinematic and artistic point of view, the film is a visual treat for the eye. The costumes are on point, with a poignant use of red, white and blue. Yet it is the use of the famous song “Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr. Hitler?” that gives that one last blow of nostalgia and creates a feeling of community amongst the platoon.
The film lacks substance and most of all, comedy. But the performances of the cast are able to bring some dignity back to this adaptation. All in all, some things should be left as they are, the proof being in Dad’s Army.