Over nine years’ worth of Dad’s Army episodes, Captain Mainwaring attempted to turn a bunch of fools, kooks and geriatrics into a deadly fighting unit. Oliver Parker, director of the unlikely new reboot, faced an even more formidable task. How to handle a brand viewed by many as fuddy-duddy, and by fans as untouchable?
With nothing more edgy than innuendo involving roly-poly pudding, its best chance of success is probably with older audiences.
Rather than reinvent the roles, Parker and his team cast stars who closely resemble the original ensemble. Several of the picks are inspired. Toby Jones tones down Mainwaring’s meanness and plays up the physical comedy, displaying a hitherto untapped aptitude for chalkboard-based slapstick. Blake Harrison, famous for playing a different stupid boy in The Inbetweeners, has a ball as iconic twit Pike. And Michael Gambon is perfect as Godfrey, wafting through scenes with an air of befuddled geniality. Other performances are less impressive: Tom Courtenay in particular is weirdly muted as Jones, as if he realised he had no chance of matching the bellicose-goose antics of his predecessor, Clive Dunn.
As for the plot, it’s moderately entertaining bunkum about a Nazi spy, whose identity is revealed very early on, but really amounts to little more than an excuse to have the whole cast moon over Catherine Zeta-Jones’ vixenish journalist. That aspect was clearly inspired by classic series four episode Mum’s Army from 1970, down to some funny business involving Mainwaring’s spectacles, but the entire thing is studded with references. Some are subtle (a line about weaponised black pepper), some very much not (most of the catchphrases are inelegantly wheeled out). Screenwriter Hamish McColl does his best work with the fraught relationship between the puffed-up Mainwaring and his upper-class underling Wilson (Bill Nighy). “It has been a bit lax,” says the latter in one scene. “No need for Latin here, Wilson,” huffs his commander in response.
But despite a smattering of sharp lines and nice moments, as a whole it’s an inessential oddity — amiable enough but also over-reverential and unlikely to leave a lasting impression. And with nothing more edgy than innuendo involving roly-poly pudding, its best chance of success is probably with older audiences.