Tuesday, 16 February 2016
Dad's Army (2016)
Well this really is lions led by donkeys.
A first rate truly accomplished cast are squandered by an ineffectual, humourless script and a director who handles comedy like an accident prone around an unexploded bomb. This would be bad for any comedy film, but when that comedy film is a remake of a much loved, cherished and classic BBC sitcom, then you really are in trouble.
Dad's Army was actually spun off into the cinema once before in 1971. Despite retaining the original cast and writers it was not a great success. Some sitcoms - indeed the vast majority of them - simply do not work well by being 'opened up' for the big screen. The thing we all loved about Dad's Army, the original sitcom, was it gave us the chance to see a truly superb cast of character actors simply bounce off one another. In a lot of old episodes the plots were basic or even superfluous. It didn't really matter that nothing much happened beyond the four walls of the Church Hall, the charm lay in the assured performances of the ensemble in the funny little situations contained there. Director Oliver Parker has managed to pull together an equally impressive ensemble here, but he actually forgets to rely on them to just be the platoon and so misses the crucial draw of finding the humour in their interaction, because he's too busy pushing the plot. It's actually bewilderingly dumb how little we see of the cast together; meaning that all the wonderful interactions like Jonesy drifting off course into the realms of fantasy, Frazer constantly undermining Mainwaring with his morose scepticism, or Mainwaring's barely contained reverse-snobbery for the more urbane Wilson, are all criminally absent for much of the film. Indeed, you could almost forget Bill Paterson (Frazer) and Tom Courtenay (Jones) are even in it until the final reel, which finally throws the platoon together in the thick of it.
Where the film does impress is actually boosting the female characters who - apart from the episode 'Mum's Army' so routinely stayed on the sidelines of the original show. Here these characters are brought forward to share the stage thanks to the Walmington ATS regiment headed up by Felicity Montagu as Mrs Mainwaring (previously only ever seen as a mighty bump in bunkbed) and featuring Sarah Lancashire as Mrs Pike, Alison Steadman as Mrs Fox, Emily Atack as Pte Walker's girlfriend (previously played by Wendy Richard, with Atack's hair being the exact replica of the '40s style the future 'Enders star wore) and the lovely Holli Dempsey from Derek as Vera, Pte Pike's girlfriend. I love Holli Dempsey *sighs* Of course the biggest female role goes to Catherine Zeta Jones as the Nazi spy who infiltrates this corner of England. And yes, she's as terrible as you would imagine.
But perhaps not as terrible as the script. I'd question if Hamish McColl has ever even seen an episode of Dad's Army as his script seems more influenced by Carry On films than it does any episode of the series and, worst of all, with its preoccupations with poor innuendo like 'slipping her a sausage', 'four balls' and 'the end' meaning CZJ's arse, this is more like Carry On England. I watched this in a rather full screening and most of these examples were met with either confusion or a stony silence. It's not helped that Oliver Parker really has no grasp of comedy and when you're relying on the comic chops of your cast to boost a shoddy script it really helps if you frame the action to their advantage. Parker doesn't and I wouldn't trust him to frame a funny painting let alone a shot that has some comic acting going on, as he fails it resolutely every time.
I went into the screening not expecting much at all. I knew it wasn't going to be as good as the series but with zero expectations I argued I may at least be pleasantly surprised. My heart sank when the opening caption told us the events were taking place in 1944 - when the invasion threat the film concentrates upon was a very distant memory and the war was all but won. Hmmm. Despite such strange choices, such gaffes and such poor handling, you can see the good intentions in reviving Dad's Army, I don't think anyone involved here set out to tarnish its good name or make a bad movie, but I'd still argue why you would actually want to raise your head above the parapet to do so in the first place.
Ultimately, Dad's Army's good name remains intact. But this is far from a good movie, despite the film's obviously good intentions.
Still, one good thing came out of it; Ferne McCann got to rock the '40s ATS look for the premiere