Thursday, 11 February 2016

Who do you think you're kidding, all you cynics?

It might be a matter of perception, but the new Dad’s Army film seems to be dividing viewers and reviewers along far deeper lines than most film releases.

For many of us over a certain age, Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s series was a highlight of the 1970s TV schedules and deservedly retains the status of national treasure.

Reruns have ensured that it has never dropped out of the public consciousness and continues to gain a new audience, and it has consistently been voted as one of the best examples of British TV and, specifically, sitcoms.

For me, there’s the added little point that my paternal grandfather was seriously myopic (thanks, Grandpop) and thus did his WWII service in the Cornish Home Guard. Decades later, he’d chuckle at the series and note that it was very true to life.

When the film was first announced, I suffered a fit of apoplexy. How could they? The original is sacrosanct and should not be tampered with.

Then I saw the casting. Goodness, the casting of this film is genius. And I started wanting it to be okay.

There were other worries, though. I originally heard that the script was to be written by those responsible for the St Trinian’s reboot, but it turned out to be by Hamish McColl, who previously penned 2014’s utterly delightful Paddington.

After seeing the trailers, I decided to make it another cinema visit and, by coincidence as much as anything, The Other Half and I saw it on the opening day, last week.

There will be no spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the film sags in the second half.

Parade time in Walmington-on-Sea (Bridlington)
However, the idea that it’s rubbish is difficult to grasp. The script is more than mere pastiche. There are innuendos and physical comedy, certainly – both of which existed in the original series and are staples of British comedy – but also layers of far subtler stuff.

It has the thread of class running through it, as did the original series – a subject that is every bit as relevant today.

The catchphrases are used with care. Charlie Mole’s score is clever, with all sorts of subtle references within it both to the original theme and assorted songs from WWII (and even, I thought, James Bond).

The cast is wonderful and don’t make the mistake of trying to impersonate the actors who made their characters famous. Particular mentions will go here to Toby Jones, who is wonderful as Mainwaring, Bill Nighy as Wilson and Michael ‘The Great’ Gambon as Godfrey.

It was also delightful to see the two remaining original cast members appear, including Frank Williams reprising his role as the vicar.

The women in the film are not, as one or two have alleged, shoehorned in in the interests of some sort of political correctness, but are worthy characters in their own right – and for goodness sake, it was hardly as if WWII excluded women.

In a role that could, given the original series, have been awkward, Felicity Montagu makes an admirable Mrs Mainwaring.

I had a worry, about half way through the film, that many of the core characters were making fools of themselves, and that what I couldn’t cope with was it being left in that way.

The denouement, though, is surprisingly tense and solves this question in fine fashion.

This is not, of course, the first Dad’s Army film, but 1971’s effort was not good, suffering from the inability to transfer a small-screen series to the big screen (and the same can be said of other British sit coms).

This is far better.

Mrs Mainwaring leads the women
Nor was I alone in my enjoyment: before the film started, The Other Half whispered that, at just gone 56, he didn’t expect to be one of the youngest members of any audience.

There was a ripple of applause during the film at one catchphrase and another at the end.

I shall assume that these were not, in some way, sarcastic.

Of course, it offers the chance to consider the issue of ‘ownage’ of characters and, indeed, dramatic works.

What this film of Dad’s Army illustrated for me was the quality of the original writing and creation of character. In recent years, I’ve been appalled on occasion when certain remakes have been announced.

But great stories and great characters can have a life of their own: would anyone suggest that there should never have been any film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes after, say, those with Basil Rathbone? Were that the case, we’d never have enjoyed Jeremy Brett. And if it had stopped there, we’d not have Benedict Cumberbatch.

What, in this case, does such a reboot give us?

Well, I think it’s a nice reminder of people who, however daft they could be in certain circumstances, they also did the right thing when the chips were down.

It’s a please, in such cynical times, to see something that is essentially uncynical.

I left the cinema with a broad smile on my face. And while it most certainly not the best film ever made, I cared about the characters once more and certainly wouldn’t object to watching it again. 

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