By Rory McInnes-Gibbons
Captain Mainwaring, Sergeant Wilson, Corporal Jones, Privates Pike and Godfrey. These names will resonate with any of you who have idly wiled away a sad Saturday night in front of the box longing to watch something other than Strictly Factor Take Me Total Wipeout. Followed, naturally, by the National Lottery.
Likewise Bill Nighy, Michael Gambon, Toby Jones, Tom Courtenay, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Daniel Mays and Blake Harrison are a British ensemble cast to make anyone stand up and take note.
Nighy famously lent his voice to Guinea Pig spy adventure, G-Force; Gambon to the HSBC ads; Toby Jones swapped Hollywood for BBC’s sleeper comedy hit, The Detectorists; Tom Courtenay was BBC’s Mr Dorrit and stars opposite Oscar nominee, Charlotte Rampling, in even sleepier 45 Years. Catherine Zeta-Jones is, well, Catherine Zeta-Jones. No one quite remembers why she is famous apart from marrying Michael Douglas and the small matter of being from Swansea. Then there is Daniel Mays, a famous face for many an Ashes to Ashes fan. Next comes Blake Harrison, not only the Inbetweeners’ Neil, but also the voice of Scoop in all action fantasy thrill ride, Bob the Builder. (That’s the yellow digger for those uninitiated.)
The voiceover credits alone point towards an animated Guinea Pig vs. JCB HSBC ad. That’s before we add into the mix Gavin and Stacey’s Alison ‘PamelAAAA’ Steadman, Alan Partridge’s doting PA, Felicity Montagu and Happy Valley’s Sarah Lancashire. The fact that these big name actors allied themselves to Dad’s Army underlines the national treasure status of Britain’s fourth favourite sitcom. For those fans of lists (I know you’re out there), a 2004 BBC poll saw Dad’s Army receive over 174,000 votes and ranked behind the top three of Only Fools… Blackadder and Vicar of Dibley. Twelve years later and little has changed.
The return of this small screen icon to the big screen is big business. It is a matter of shared cultural capital. In the introspective conundrum of this year’s EU referendum, sitcoms like Dad’s Army are one of the cultural exports we will need to maximise in our treaty trade offs. Let’s not forget, the film is trailed as the British Empire Strikes Back. The fact is, the Danes might make a Killing out of The Bridge, the Germans have Deutschland 83, the French Spiral, but we, the brave British, have monolithic totems like the men of Walmington-On-Sea to represent our best qualities. Like Morris dancing or David Cameron, it might seem a peculiarly English concern, but our collective identity is at stake.
The failure of Dad’s Army at the box office in Europe could spell disaster for either the in, out or shake it all about campaigns. Doing the Hokey Cokey, then turning around is simply not an option when it comes to exiting the EU. We need to understand the identity of this sovereignty we long for. Yes, the pound is important, but our culture defines us. The who we are is the where we come from. So we tell them, we are proud to be British. Like the Pork Pie, Pukka Pie or a Steak and Ale pie, this film is perhaps not our strongest export.
Humour and wit, sarcasm and charm are where we flourish. The stiff upper lip can often be prised open with a little sophistication. Not this article, not this film, but the Dad’s Army of the sixties and seventies was we to a tee. The saddest thing is, though the majority of the cast will never see this cultural abomination, one of the writers of the original, Jimmy Perry, is still going strong way into his nineties. I just hope he is not forced away from a warm fire on a cold February night to brave conditions for this needless resuscitation of his beloved brainchild.
Childish. Only that would be an insult to the intelligence of children. Infantile. The film is so poorly written that the talent within the cast is tragically wasted and the location of the laughs unrecognisable. The slapstick is the only real comedic crescendo and it never achieves the full on farce of the original. In the tales of Mainwaring and Wilson, the writers even try and sneak in a little pathos. The two desperate characters are overworked to caricature and the chemistry of class bigotry between the pair never reaches the passive aggressive perfection of Arthur Lowe and the fantastically demure John Le Mesurier. Tom Courtenay is inexplicably unfunny as Jones and the only flash in the pan of possible funny is Gambon’s Godfrey. Wearing a skirt…
It is hard to discern a target audience for Dad’s Army. You’d like to think the older generations would squirm at its inadequacy when compared to the original. For the younger viewer, it is Paddington, without the animated bear or Nicole Kidman. So, basically, it is a bunch of guys in khaki making trite innuendo for an hour and a half. Not that great if I remember my seven-year-old self. The original was universal in its appeal. The new film is from Universal Pictures. This is what happens when big bucks invade our little island of charm. Some things are best laid to rest. RIP Dad’s Army, we remember you fondly and will still tune into BBC Two on those lonely winter nights for a dose of the real men of Walmington.
Image Courtesy of Flickr