In sleepy seaside town Walmington-on-Sea, the only hope to stop a Nazi spy from smuggling secrets of the British war effort back to Germany lies with a small platoon of Local Defence Volunteers. Unfortunately this group of doddery old men and inexperienced boys are not the finest their country has to offer, and lead by Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) and Sergeant Wilson (Bill Nighy) they must try and not balls-up the whole thing.
After a title sequence consisting of an awful CGI pigeon flying to “Ride of the Valkyries” we go straight in to a weirdly misjudged serious take on the sitcom’s “You have been watching…” (which we get a proper version of at the end anyway). After that it’s the bull scene you’ve probably already seen in the trailers, and the old boys slowly walking away from an equally slow (but we’re told, angry) bull is no funnier here.
The wives (Felicity Montagu and a completely wasted Sarah Lancashire and Alison Steadman) are great additions to the regular cast of characters, perhaps the one thing that was lacking in the original show – formidable women to keep their silly old men in check. The scene in the Mainwarings’ shelter during an air raid is made memorable by Mrs M’s determination to not lose out on sleep no matter what is flying overhead – she having erected a sizeable bunk bed in there for just such a night. As Elizabeth, Felicity Montagu steals every scene she’s in, fully living up to the fearsome reputation her character (unseen, but referred to frequently in the sitcom) has built up.
Sergeant Wilson’s oft-hinted at infidelity and misdemeanours are made far more explicit and Nighy has fun with his snide, borderline maverick take on the character originated by John Le Mesurier. The others fit the moulds you expect, but rarely shine. Tom Courtenay’s Lance-Corporal Jones only raises a smile when he confides his out-of-the-blue philosophical conundrum, “If none of us exist, who would I sell my sausages to?”. I’m not sure Toby Jones’ gentle buffoon really competes with Arthur Lowe’s stuck up blowhard Captain Mainwaring, but at least Jones isn’t trying to do an impression of his predecessor.
The number one sin on radio is said to be dead air. This film all-too-often is the visual and comic equivalent of that. You can almost hear the embarrassed coughing in the background when the jokes don’t land or a pratfall is slightly off. Mainwaring tripping over things and over his words and Jones’ sausage-based innuendo aren’t exactly the height of comic sophistication, but they could have worked if well-timed, or at least if they form only a part of the routine. But in Dad’s Army “whoops” and “I saw you give her your sausage” is your lot.
It’s nice to have an acknowledgement that incompetent platoons of the Home Guard would of course be found out eventually. They weren’t a joke in the war, just a backup force back in Blighty, a chance for those unable to join up because of their age or their health serve their country. Of course having the platoon in dire straits at the end of the second act is simply to add a little more jeopardy than you’d see on the small screen. I don’t know how you’d get the runtime without this fabrication, but it still feels forced.
Dad’s Army is not only underwhelming and unfunny, but a pretty pointless exercise. Fans of the sitcom won’t give it the time of day, and it’s too dull and comically misjudged to find a new audience. Bill Nighy and Felicity Montagu on fine form can’t save this misfire. I think I’ll just stick to watching the original show, still repeated every Saturday night on the BBC, whenever I visit my grandad. SSP