Dir: Oliver Parker, 2016
This film just doesn’t work. Granted, it’s a hard act to follow but this is a poor excuse for a remake.
The majority of the casting is wrong. Some of the characters have been changed from their original counterparts which detracts from the enjoyment.
Let’s take Pike. In the series he was a proper mummy’s boy, mollycoddled by his mum and almost scared of women. With his childlike demeanour he was easily excitable and heavily influenced by American gangster films. In this, however, he’s a bit cocky, forward, makes the first move on women and more mature. Blake Harrison looks the part but doesn’t have the character and is no match for Ian Lavender who, incidentally, has a cameo as a Brigadier.
Walker was the pencil thin moustached, cockney spiv. Using the war to make a quick buck he was ready to deliver all forms of black market goods but always with a profit for himself, obviously. Played by James Beck, he fitted the role perfectly. With a natural cockney accent and mannerisms clearly learned from growing up in Islington made him a natural for the role. Unfortunately, Daniel Mays isn’t a cockney and tries his hardest to achieve the accent but with dismal results. It comes across as more..mockney, like a caricature of Beck. He certainly doesn’t do him justice. You can almost hear him rolling in his grave.
The worst culprit however is Bill Nighy. Stepping in to the shoes of John Le Mesurier, Nighy’s Sergeant Wilson looks bored and uninterested. I get the impression that the producers waved a big, fat cheque under his nose and he greedily accepted. Dull, lifeless with a monotone voice he’s a million miles away from Le Mesurier. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t make any effort to hide it. What the makers were thinking when they saw his seriously lacklustre performance is a mystery to us all. Personally, I wouldn’t have hesitated in ridding the film of his presence.
The rest of the cast are more than adequate to stand in for the late originals. Toby Jones as Mainwaring is just as likeable and pompous as Arthur Lowe’s portrayal of the diminutive Captain bumbling his way around Walmington-on-Sea. Tom Courtenay as Jones has the voice down but holds back on the buffoonery of Clive Dunn. Rounding the cast off is Michael Gambon as Godber, the kind hearted and doddery, gentle first aider. Gambon succeeds in recreating Arnold Ridley’s iconic role and does the show proud.
Oliver Parker doesn’t have much of an idea of how the series was. You’d think he’d never actually seen an episode sometimes. John Laurie as the dark mortician Frazer saw everything through a veil of black, warning everyone that “we’re doomed” whenever danger came their way. Bill Paterson can’t pull that macabre feel that wide eyed Laurie could.
The film destroys some of what made “Dad’s Army” so memorable. Mainwaring’s wife was unseen and unheard yet, somehow, always had a presence. Here, you can see and hear her played sternly by Felicity Montagu and it takes the mystery away that added so much to the show. And the least said about Catherine Zeta Jones the better but, that can be said of any film which she’s in.
A lovely homage to the original, though, comes in the form of Frank Williams once again donning the cassock to play The Reverend Timothy Farthing just as he did in the series. Strangely, though, he’s credited as only “The Vicar”.
This could be have been a good film but the biggest problem of all is that it just isn’t funny.
If the film had had a lot more thought and effort put into the script and the casting it could’ve been an enjoyable hour and a half but, as it stands, it’s a wasted opportunity.