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Dad’s Army: a creaky comedy

Dad’s Army is a British film that feels very British – so that’s fitting. It’s also a film that feels like a TV series, and since it’s based on a sitcom of the same name – that’s fitting, too. Fittingly, too, British director Oliver Parker has directed many a UK TV series e.g. The Bill and UK films e.g. Johnny English Reborn, so he should know what he is doing transitioning a UK sitcom into a UK film. Fittingly, the cast is littered with highly regarded British actors like Bill Nighy and Catherine Zeta Jones, and yet, somehow, this comedy just does not gel.

The film opens in 1944 as World War II is drawing to a close. The Allied victory over Germany is almost guaranteed. But in Walmington-on-Sea, the blundering Home Guard is finding it difficult to patrol the Dover army base. When a gorgeous journalist called Miss Winters arrives in town, the men all lust after her, which distracts them from their mission of finding the German spy who is sending radio transmissions from their beach. Various escapades ensue but the film’s climax crafts a scenario that offers an opportunity for Dad’s Army to prove that they are not doddering old fools.

The use of puns and sexual innuendo is a staple of British film and theatre, and writer Hamish McColl employs them aplenty, but references to a woman being ‘given a sausage’ and a wife claiming that ‘my roly-poly is better than hers’ just makes the dialogue feel clunky and awkward. It’s a bit anachronistic, like watching a ‘Carry-on’ film that cracks double-entendres that are neither relevant nor funny. Even the farce sequence, where various members of the Dad’s Army platoon arrive to visit Miss Winter, and then hide behind her furniture, is only mildly funny.

Casting British acting royalty like Michael Gambon (Private Godfrey), Toby Jones (Capt Mainwaring) and Bill Paterson (Private Frazer) to play befuddled old fellows should’ve guaranteed laughs because the male characters are all naive bumpkins – yet even they cannot make it work.  The female cast is also a British acting talent line-up e.g. Felicity Montagu is Mainwaring’s wife, and Sarah Lancashire is Pike’s mother and Nighy’s better half, yet their characters are so unappealing that it is almost impossible for the audience to warm to these actresses, or characters. Sure the costuming, like eveyone’s acting, is superb; the sets look authentic, and the cinematography is classy, but none of these things can compensate for an intrinsically weak plot.

I have never seen an episode of the TV series of Dad’s Army, but I suspect that those people who were fans of the show, will find the film disappointing. As a stand-alone film, this offering lacks the subtlety of a truly funny comedy and the dignity of nostalgic drama. Like the shooting skills of most men in Dad’s Army, whatever they were aiming for with this film … they missed!

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