Watch it backwards – and then don’t stay for long: Dad’s Army reviewed

The casting is a dream but the script lacks nuance and is painfully padded out, and the only decent moment is an outtake played over the end credits

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

Dad’s Army

U, Nationwide

The TV sitcom Dad’s Army ran on the BBC from 1968 to 1977 (nine series, 80 episodes) with repeats still running to this day (Saturday, BBC2, 8.25 p.m.) and I sometimes watch these repeats with my dad (92) and we laugh like idiots and I sometimes watch with my son (23) and we laugh like idiots and sometimes the three of us watch together (combined age 169, should that be of interest) and we all laugh like idiots but I was not minded to laugh like an idiot during this film, possibly because I was not minded to laugh at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, goes the saying, and while this isn’t something you’re ever told by Carphone Warehouse when it’s begging you to upgrade, it would have proved good advice in this instance, should anyone have wished to hear.

I had my initial reservations, as did we all, I expect. Indeed, when I first heard there was going to be a big-screen update my gut reaction said, ‘No, no, no’. And also, ‘No’. Followed by, ‘No’. But then, fool that I am, the cast list was announced and I perked up enormously. The casting is a dream as it’s Toby Jones (Mainwaring), Bill Nighy (Wilson), Tom Courtenay (Jones), Michael Gambon (Godfrey), Bill Paterson (Frazer), Daniel Mays (Walker) and Blake Harrison (Pike). It could work, became my thinking. You can’t gather all that talent — Gambon! As Private Godfrey! — and have it come to nothing, became my thinking. But then, fool that I am, I did not factor in a feeble script, endless pointless slapstick and the sort of ooh-er-missus humour that wrings every double entendre it can from ‘roly-poly’ and then returns for more. (I like roly-poly, but not that much.)

Directed by Oliver Parker (Johnny English Reborn), and written by Hamish McColl (Johnny English Reborn, Paddington and, for theatre, The Play What I Wrote), the film takes us back to Walmington-on-Sea, 1944, and our home guard platoon, as led by Captain Mainwaring. (Toby Jones imitating Arthur Lowe, but then Mainwaring wouldn’t be Mainwaring if you didn’t imitate Arthur Lowe, so there’s no way round that.) Here, the jeopardy has been upped in that there is a Nazi spy (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in their midst, not that they know she’s a Nazi spy, as she is masquerading as Rose Winters, a journalist from The Lady. But the trouble is, we know her for what she is, so we must simply wait for everyone else to play catch-up. And wait. And wait. And wait. It is so overstretched it’s properly painful.

Rose is, of course, a femme fatale, creating rivalries all over the place. She turns Wilson’s head and Mainwaring’s head and Pike’s head and any head going, basically. This even leads to one of those farce scenes during which her various admirers hide behind sofas and doors and leap out of windows. Any nuance from the original series is entirely absent as it insists on making the covert overt. Pike, for example, is openly acknowledged as Wilson’s son, while Wilson is openly acknowledged as sharper than Mainwaring. (In the series, Wilson would have a good idea, which he’d then let Mainwaring claim, and this gave their relationship real pathos and depth.) They have also brought Mrs Mainwaring (Felicity Montagu) on screen for no good reason, which ruins that particular joke — never seeing Mrs Mainwaring, for all those 80 episodes, was the point of her.

There is no vulnerability to any of the characters, who are disappointingly indistinguishable anyhow. Bill Paterson’s Frazer, for example, is not especially lugubrious, while Tom Courtenay’s Jones is not especially excitable. Meanwhile, Nighy is Nighy while Harrison simply reprises his dimwitted role from The Inbetweeners. Best, by far, is Gambon! As Private Godfrey! He makes Godfrey sweetly adorable, at least. And in a supporting role, Sarah Lancashire as Mavis Pike does try to add emotional heft, but it only ever amounts to a sliver.

With the various catchphrases popping up clunkily whenever and wherever — ‘we’re all doomed!’, ‘stupid boy!’, ‘don’t panic!’ — this always feels horribly contrived. The only decent moment, in fact, occurs when the out-takes are played over the end credits and we see Gambon’s mobile going off in a scene, and everyone stays in character, and it’s genuinely funny. So here’s my advice: ask to see this film backwards and then don’t stay for long.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • davidshort10

    Great review. i won’t go and see it. I doubt if I’ll ever bother watching it when it’s free. No mention of the ARP or the vicar and his loyal warden. And of course we never want to Mrs Mainwaring. We always wondered if Captain Mainwaring were gay with an invented ‘Elizabeth’.

    • Frank Marker

      One episode had him falling for a woman, played by Carmen da Silva.
      They even had a Brief Encounter style farewell at the railway station.

    • EmpressJadis

      But she dressed in Mrs Fox’s fleshings and paraded down the street as Lady Godiva.

  • steve taylor

    The original “Dad’s Army” was good for the 1970s, let’s face it, there wasn’t much opposition. Even now, the re-runs make a welcome break from the dire “family entertainment” which pervades our screens of a Saturday evening. However, this film, even before I read the review, sounded dreadful. My doubts have now been confirmed.

  • The prospects don’t look good for Allah! Allah! the Resistance film with a Muslim cafe-owner, do they?

    • EmpressJadis

      The dramatic tension would be sadly lessened by Rene’s ability to marry both barmaids amd the Head of the Communist Resistance in addition to his luvvly first wife.

    • Onedtent

      Bwahahaha! Hysterical laughter! Comment of the day!

    • IainRMuir

      The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies would lose something in a burka, wouldn’t she?

      And the beheaded airmen in the wine vat would rather sour the atmosphere.

  • john

    Do Brits ever make TV shows, make movies or write books that aren’t about the class system? I haven’t seen this gem but I bet it has the usual stock characters.

    • EmpressJadis

      Do the Yanks ever make films that don’t show Southern Whites as gibbering racists, or mountain-dwellers as products of a restricted gene pool?

      • john

        Well there is some truth in that image but Southern Whites are only a small % of the US population.
        My point (and its tough to deny) is that British literature and movies rely on class to an astonishing degree. This Dad’s Army botch up nod doubt has the usual suspects – conniving wideboy, middle class milquetoast, posh lady of the manor and effete public schoolboy etc.

      • Hagen vanTronje

        Yes they do, The Alamo, Colonel Davy Crockett was a Scotsman who served in the US Government. Let’s not forget the Southern States and Mountain Dwellers have mostly Anglo Saxon roots.

        • Mr B J Mann

          True, but that highlights something else.

          The typical Oirish American is a Catholic New Yorker celebrating st Patricks Day.

          But, the typical Irish American is actuall an Ulster Protestant (and the Ulster Protestants are descendants of the Scotsmen who were descendants of the Ulster Irish who invaded Northern Britain and displaced the Picts!)

          And the “Country” in Country & Western is (Northern) Irish County music.

          And when music historians try to trace Black American music, Gospel, and Rythm & Blues to its roots in Africa they come to a dead end.

          About the time Scottish missionaries brought their gospel music to Africa.

          So it woul appear that Rock n Roll
          And the music it sprang from is actuall from a Scots-Irish heritage!

          Now you’ll never see ny of that depicted in the movies!

  • right1_left1

    Dad’s army like ‘Alllo ‘Allo was/is childish. Possible OK for childrens hour.
    Nothing more to be said.

    • Jack Rocks

      I thought Allo Allo was funny. To this day I still delight in saying “good moaning”.

      • right1_left1

        Believe it or not I am quite content with your appraisal.
        i mean that Not trying to patronise.

    • MikePage

      As if children could understand a comedy about the British class system of the mid 20th century. You think so??

      • right1_left1

        Dad’s Army a comedy about the British class system ?
        Firstly working class children could understand that in 30’s 40’s 50’s UK they were controlled by an alien group which they did not find funny !
        Middle and upper middle class types were not aware of any problem.

        I lived thru’ that period and always thought that the voices of authority were lacking in any relevence to anything realistic or useful.
        When I realised how, to feather their own nests, they controlled the body politic of the nation I became disillusioned.
        Not a lot has changed.The accents have been moderated.

        I am certain that Dad’s Army was conceived to idealise bumbling inefficiency (nice but dim) and to continue the deceit re German superiority and UK failure.
        Not a lot has changed.

        if ever Mannering and others had been confronted with German military efficiency they would have been peremptorily swept aside .

        • Tom Allalone

          Of course Dad’s Army was about the British class system, Perry and Croft were quite clear about that and everyone involved in the production knew it. And of course Mainwaring (the deliberately ambiguous spelling and pronunciation was another class based joke) and hs men wouldn’t have stood a chance against the Germans – the point was they would, nevertheless, have given their all rather than give in. It was conceived because Jimmy Perry had served in the Home Guard and wanted to write a comedy about something he knew that would have a part in it for himself (that didn’t work out – he wanted to be Walker) The fact that it dealt with the exploits of a rather inefficient part of the armed services was one of the reasons it nearly didn’t get made, so there was no ruling class conspiracy to celebrate British niceness as opposed to German efficiency – which you rather seem to admire. That, combined with a slight sense of humour deficit, makes me wonder if you’re not a fifth columnist or, possibly, German

          • polidorisghost

            “That, combined with a slight sense of humour deficit, makes me wonder if you’re not a fifth columnist or, possibly, German”

            To be fair to Germans, they have a pronounced sense of humour. It just isn’t easily recognisable as such.

          • Mr B J Mann

            To be even more fair, I once worked with a German-Swiss, and he had a very good sense o humour.

            And even the Germans think the Swiss have no sense of humour!

          • right1_left1

            Naive behaviour amount to ‘ fifth columnism’ is to be seen right now in the UK
            I refer to those who hold conciliatory attitudes to Islam.

            I have developed some rather controversial attitudes to those famous spies Burgess McClean and Philby.
            I have no evidence but do know what social conditions were like in the UK after WW1

          • Enoch Powell

            Indeed. Mutti Merkel stood up and invited 5 million ‘refugees’ to come and settle in Germany.

            How everyone laughed….

          • right1_left1

            I would say that Dad’s Army was more about hoping to produce a succesful ‘entertainment presentation’ by romanticising the UK’s stance during it’s ‘darkest hour’

            The horrors of war are entirely absent
            The bombing the death the destruction.
            Difficult to include in a comedy I agree but those horrors were the context in which the Home Guard was formed.

            All we see is a series of silly vignettes and slogans
            ‘ they dont like it up ’em’
            ‘dont panic’
            designed to make many feel good about a particulatar aspect of a disastrous and from the UK POV unnecessary military conflict.

            The Black Adder ‘over the top’ episode was a much more humourous comedy vehicle and it did refer to the lunacy stupidity and barbarism of War !

          • Tom Allalone

            Unnecessary military conflict? Had we not fought the country would have been Nazified within a decade, a Germany which dominated the continent would not and could not have tolerated a democratic Britain. And though the beginning might have been disastrous, I do vaguely recall that Britain won. As for the general point, read Graham Lord’s book on Dad’s Army – class was vital to its conception, Perry even tells an anecdote about his days in the army to illustrate this

          • right1_left1

            You and people who argue as you do have bought ‘hook line and sinker’ the propoganda re the UK’s role in WW2.
            On the Eastern front facing the Soviet Union the Wermacht employed 100 divisions.
            In North Africa to support Italian failure they deployed 4

            The’populare’ accepted history of WW2 is totally distorted
            The record is available showing that Europe would have beem Nazified not the UK and the Empire !

          • paridell

            “In the Great Patriotic War, Britain gave time, America gave money, and Russia gave blood” – Stalin. It have would been more accurate of Uncle Joe to say that America gave technology. But it is certainly true that Britain gave time. Without that, there might well have been no winning side for Britain to end up on.

          • right1_left1

            So Russia was dependant upon the time given to it by the UK ?.
            Where do you get this nonsense from ?

            The Germans swept thru’ Europe..
            Had a set back at the Battle of Bitain.
            Bombed the major cities of the UK from about Sept 1940.
            Then decided to devote its energies to preparing an attack on Russia.which had always
            been one of it’s major aims.
            Look up Lebensraum and attitudes to the Slavs and acquisition of natural resources.

            Had the US after Pearl Harbour devoted their miltary capability to attacking Japan.
            Had the Germans not decided to attack Russia and just as important Russia not attacked Germany we were totally marginalised.

            WC’s speeches notwithsatnding.
            Any body can talk, some more effectively than others but talk doesnt cut the mustard.

            The Uk can cxount itself very lucky to emerge from WW2 totally bankrupt and 10’s of 1000’s killed.
            It could have been much worse.

          • paridell

            I gave the source of the quotation, didn’t you notice? It is generally regarded as a very fair summary, although, as I noted, it would be more accurate to say that the United States gave technology. Then again, primum nervos belli, pecuniam infinitam, as Cicero has it. The sinews of war, a limitless supply of money.

            Spelling: dependant, set back, Pearl Harbour, Any body, Uk.

            Not to mention frequent errors in punctuation. Here is another quotation to remember when composing future effusions: “To have touched the feet of Christ is no excuse for mistakes in punctuation” – Fernando Pessoa.

          • right1_left1

            To mention spelling/punctuation mistakes when we are discussing details of probably the worst human disaster in history reveals to me that you suffer from a neurosis of sorts.

            Joe Stalin was constantly calling for miltary intervention from the West in order to take pressure off Russia.
            An invasion of Europe earlier than the one that actually took place was suggested by the Brits and rejected by Eisenhower.
            By then the Brits were subservient to the USA and have remained so ever since !

            The Uk/commonwealth contribution was major but would not have been decisive without either US material and troops and the failure of Germany to defeat Russia.

            One rarely mentioned contribution the USA made was the supply of machine tools to manufacturing.
            Very important was that !

          • paridell

            All correct (if only stating the obvious), except for paragraphs 1 and 3. As the Pessoa quotation suggests, there is no excuse for poor spelling or punctuation, and especially not when discussing matters of life or death. The Telegraph’s slapdash standards in some of its reporting of First World War anniversaries, for example, betrayed a lack of respect for the subject matter, in my opinion.

            As for paragraph 3, it was in fact the Americans who wanted to mount an early invasion and it was the British who restrained them. I suggest consulting the Alanbrooke War Diaries.

          • right1_left1

            I accept without checking your correction re who wanted an early invasion.
            I tend to post without ‘googling’ and just re called that someone on the allied side suggested an early invasion of Europe.

            para 1 in my post is accurate in ALL respects.

            While I may be stating the obvious I think it would have been to the benefit the UK, if fewer people had ‘bought into’ the propaganda re WW2 and accepted the obvious need to knuckle down and encourage manufacture (other than armaments) and genuine value added activity.
            This would have required emphasising vocational subjects like technical HNC and engineering degrees.
            What we got was PPE ENG LIt Art history etc.

            My inadequate grammar skills tell me that quoting you…
            As the Pessoa quotation suggests, there is no excuse for poor spelling
            or punctuation, and especially not when discussing matters of life or

            The comma after’ suggests’ is not necessay ; no subordinate clause follows.
            The ‘and’ after’ punctuation’ should be removed and the comma replaced with a semi colon.

            What do I know I only attended a technical school and a technical college
            I hope I havent fuelled your neurosis hehehehehe

          • paridell

            Your paragraph 1 is accurate in all respects, except that it is wrong!

            I’m afraid you are correct in acknowledging that your grammatical skills are inadequate. The analysis that follows only confirms it.

            But no hard feelings…

          • right1_left1

            quote:Your paragraph 1 is accurate in all respects, except that it is wrong!

            The presence of all is contradicted by that which follows except !
            Very sloppy thinking !
            See I elucidate, you assert.

            Re what I do or do not acknowledge: self mockery is often used to indicate a feeling of superiority.
            Did you know that ?
            ‘Irony’ is a very odd word but that may also be present in my post.
            Pedantry is certainly present in yours !
            Equally warm wishes.
            Tara !

          • paridell

            “See ?” you ask. I’m afraid I don’t.

            Further punctuation note: in adding spaces before question and exclamation marks, you are following the French style. No such space is added in English. But look at it this way – you’re all set to post in French from now on!

          • right1_left1

            Comme la voix d’une soprano vieillissement vos messages deviennent
            plus en plus faible

            Bonne chance mon ami et vive la republique francais !

          • paridell

            I think the episode in which Captain Mainwaring came close to shooting Private Godfrey with the Lewis gun as Godfrey made shadow patterns over Walmington-on-Sea from the lighthouse at least had pathos.

        • MikePage

          I’m not sure you understand comedy.

        • IainRMuir

          Oh dear.

          Whatever you do, please don’t attempt to write a comedy yourself.

          I’d stay away from WWII documentaries as well.

          Dooooomed, definitely doooomed.

        • Hagen vanTronje

          “”if ever Mannering and others had been confronted with German military
          effectivemess they would have been peremptorily swept aside . Exactly
          has happened to the British Expeditionary Dunkirk
          There the Germans weren’t even trying !

          No they were not but you can blame hermann Goering for that, he wanted his Luftwaffe on Central Stage and thwarted the Wehrmacht’s easy win.

          • right1_left1

            As far as I can tell nobody knows for sure why the Germans held back at Dunkirk.

            My guess is that it was thought that the UK was contained and would see ‘sense ‘
            It could be argued, cruelly I admit, that the ‘sense’ would be easier to perceive if large chunks of the Army had been ‘dealt with’
            After the later setbacks in North Africa I understand there were moves afoot to remove the PM.

            The Rudolph Hess affair is very mysterious though in fact his flight to the UK was early 1941 when I thought ‘off the top of my head’ it was some time in 1940.

          • Hagen vanTronje

            Hermann Goering told the Fuhrer to halt the Wehrmacht and let the Luftwaffe finish off the BEF, that mistake lost Germany WW2.

          • Enoch Powell

            The point of German aggression in WW2 was exactly the same as WW1. To protect Germany from it’s two historic enemies. France and Russia. Britain never featured in that and was purely an afterthought.

        • paridell


          Have you never heard Captain Square call him Main-Waring?

    • MikePage

      As if children could understand a comedy about the British class system of the mid 20th century. You think so??

  • Jab

    Still laugh at this comedy, was looking at current list on BBC and there was nothing to make me even smile.The characters are so well acted and the pairing of Arthur Lowe with John Le Mesurier a stroke of genious or great luck

  • Jab

    What about Fawlty towers, it is a masterpiece made in the 70’s.

    • davidshort10

      The only funny thing Cleese ever did and it was based on his true prejudices.

  • Jab

    The comment below was meant as a response to Steve Taylor , in case he never saw it.

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    There’s already a Dad’s Army film, with the original sitcom cast, so this film is pointless on that level. What lack of imagination made someone think that making a movie from a successful and well loved TV series would be a good idea? This is up there with the re-worked Reggie Perrin.

  • Social Justice Warrior

    I find a comedy about war to be distasteful at best

    • CoinneachCu

      Aristophanes not your thing then?

      • davidofkent

        Or even Aristophanelbows

    • Enoch Powell


      War films that aren’t comedic tend to be bloody depressing. Three hours watching Adrian Brody shuffling along in a beard.

    • Callipygian

      And yet your name is ‘Warrior’. What a fraud.

  • Onedtent

    Pity that the soldiers depicted above are wearing the wrong webbing.

    • TrippingDwarves

      I think, even in the originals, they always wore the wrong webbing – binocular cases instead of ammo packs. Perhaps as a subtle joke…

      • Onedtent

        I can believe the subtle joke bit. When the series first came out I bet 70% of the viewers had previous military service……………………………….

        • Mr B J Mann

          And the rest saw them kitted up.

          It always amuses me when modern “journalists” try to downplay and deride someone who said they were “attached” to, or a “liaison officer” with, the SAS or some such thing, by pointing out that that meant they weren’t actually in it, when absolutely everybody at the time would have know exactly what was meant by the “claim”.

          It’s especially ironic when the person was trying to downplay their role and the claim was a cover for something much more interesting that they had no intention of publicising.

  • Jab

    Cleese understands comedy and that much of it is based on prejudice, we can laugh at these traits and then lighten them.Modern view is that you cant do that its not PC therefore comedy suffers and everything gets so heavy and serious. Goodbye comedy and hello offence taking.

    • Mr B J Mann

      That’s the problem with the “liberal” left:

      They can’t see that laughter is a safety valve, and if you don’t allow it something is going to blow.

      Similarly with banter, it’s part of bonding, and if you don’t allow it you’re banning integration!

      • Callipygian

        The ‘liberal’ Left isn’t liberal: it’s a misnomer. Just call them the Left.

        • Mr B J Mann

          Hence the quotes.

          To signify they are the illiberal left.

          • Callipygian

            I’ve seen left-liberals as a non-ironic term. I stand by my point. Drop the liberal entirely. You can’t be too obvious about these things, and words matter.

          • Mr B J Mann

            Yes Miss……..

  • MikePage

    I didn’t think much of the trailer or Johnny English (or any of the Rowan Atkinson vehicle movies) so can’t say I’m surprised.

  • MikePage

    I didn’t think much of the trailer or Johnny English (or any of the Rowan Atkinson vehicle movies) so can’t say I’m surprised.

  • Ivan Ewan

    Should have had:

    Matt Damon as Captain Mainwaring
    Chris Hemsworth as Sgt. Wilson
    Leonardo DiCaprio as Cpl. Jones
    Shia LeBoeuf as Pvt. Pike
    Harrison Ford as Pvt. Godfrey
    Michael Ironside as ARP Warden Hodges.

    I mean, if you’re gonna have such a profound miscasting with the platoon and put CZ-J in it as well, you might as well go the whole hog.

    • Hagen vanTronje

      As far as I am aware, these chaps have all, ‘known’, CZJ

  • Kandanada

    Having seen the film today, I think it was an affectionate 21st Century big-screen adaptation of a ’70s classic sitcom. The original was not highbrow, neither is the film. This review criticises the film for lots of nonsense, slapstick and silliness. Those qualities were present in the original and were, I think, recreated quite well in the new picture. Excellent movie.

  • Dominic Stockford

    Sounds good to me, must go and watch it.

  • Ade

    I saw it, and as said above, there was no subtlety. How they can spend so much money producing a film, and not even start with a good script, never ceases to amaze me. No matter how good the cast, they can’t resuscitate a dying turkey. Perhaps we were spoiled by the original series, and writing such as Yes, Minister, Fawlty Towers and Blackadder, and will never see its like again?

  • Stephen

    Don’t run away with the idea that the original was relentlessly funny. It
    wasn’t. Try dipping into a few of the endless repeats and you’ll find quite a lot of tedium.

  • hillary luxy

    once I figure out where I can watch the film at last I found a link where I can
    watch the film, please you here

    there you can watch the film for even you can download, thank you for goo movie.
    already showed me a place where I can watch the film