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quinta-feira, 28 de janeiro de 2016
Dad's Army review: 'permission to panic'
The beloved sitcom marches to the big screen armed with feeble gags. But thanks to a game cast - especially Toby Jones's Captain Mainwaring - it's not quite doomed
Before seeing the new film version of Dad’s Army, I thought Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s wartime sitcom just couldn’t be adapted for the cinema in 2016. Afterwards, I left the cinema convinced it could work – but whatever it was I’d just seen hadn’t.
It’s a cop-out to claim any source material is too "of its time" to make sense in the modern world, so let’s not give the film that excuse. Perry and Croft’s devious comedy of manners, and the claustrophobic, class-warfare-ridden laughs it elicited in great gales every week, certainly spoke directly to the late 1960s and 70s when it was broadcast. But the human foibles it exposed were universal.
George Mainwaring, bank manager and captain of Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard, was a small man scrabbling around for his place in an uncertain world – and was as excruciatingly recognisable as The Diary of a Nobody’s George Pooter, or Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan is today.
The fact his platoon’s humiliations came while, say, being chased around a field by a bull, as they did in the 1969 episode Operation Kilt, was just context for the broader joke. In the film, being chased by the bull is the joke. It feels like a six-year-old’s hazy memories of the show – not the real, uproarious thing.
The plot involves the arrival of a German spy in the seaside town, co-incidentally at exactly the same time as an attractive female journalist, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. It’s cute, and Perry and Croft could have steam-rollered through it in half an hour.
Feeble double-entendres about sausages and roly-poly, a botched visual gag about inflatable tanks, tokenistic "girl power" moments when Walmington-on-Sea’s women’s auxiliary army save the day: not a lot here is good. What convinced me that it might have worked, in a parallel universe, was the casting – of one actor in particular.
Replacing Arthur Lowe as Captain Mainwaring would, of course, be impossible. So Toby Jonesdoesn’t even try to. Instead, he crafts a new character – so familiar and sad and snowed under with pathos that his performance is fit to stand alongside Lowe’s own.
Jones is one of our most gifted clowns, and whether he’s answering the telephone with a broom handle through his sleeves, choking on a mouthful of Victoria sponge, or just squinting, there’s a precision to his work that’s instantly hilarious, and yawningly absent from the film at large.
The rest of the cast, who include Bill Nighy as a very Bill Nighy-ish Sergeant Wilson, Tom Courtenay as Lance-Corporal Jones and Daniel Mays as Private Walker, are perfectly game, and largely well-picked. But they’re let down by the kind of puny script that can’t tell funny and frantic apart, and sells a lengthy, obviously blue-screened sequence in which Jones is pulled up from a cliff-edge as a slapstick highlight.
Anyone who’s seen Blake Harrison dance in The Inbetweeners will be aware of his talent for physical comedy. But in the handful of scenes in which he gets to use it as Private Pike, the camera all but misses him: visually the film strives for a simpering, chocolate-box prettiness that’s like a vaccination against comedy. And bringing the previously unseen Mrs Mainwaring (Felicity Montagu) centre stage kills off a good running joke with no detectable benefit.
References to the original series pop up often. Sometimes they’re pulled off cleverly: the famous title sequence, with arrows on a map, is recreated in a Nazi war-room. More ordinarily, they’re not. (In the third act, the cast simply rattle through the catchphrases they haven’t got round to saying yet).
The director and writer, Oliver Parker and Hamish McColl, last collaborated on Johnny English Reborn, a bad comedy inspired by a credit card advert. Dad’s Army bleakly suggests that even the best source material in the world can only take you so far.
Left to right: Mainwaring, Wilson, Jones, Frazer, Godrey, Pike and Walker. Photo: Universal Pictures/PA Wire
Dad's Army follows the adventures of a ragtag platoon of Home Guard volunteers based in the English town of Walmington-on-Sea during World War II
Captain George Mainwaring,
pompous and snobbish but kind-hearted local bank manager. Catchphrase: "You stupid boy!"
Sergeant Arthur Wilson,
laid-back, upper-class bank employee. Catchphrase: "Do you really think that's wise, sir?"
Lance-Corporal Jack Jones,
local butcher and elderly veteran of Victorian-era military campaigns. Catchphrase: "Don't panic! Don't panic!"
Private James Frazer,
dour Scottish local undertaker. Catchphrase: "We're doomed!"
Private Charles Godfrey,
retired shop assistant and the platoon's medical orderly
Private Frank Pike,
too young to join the regular Army and with an overprotective mum. She makes him wear a scarf with his uniform "so he doesn't catch croup"
Private Joe Walker,
black marketeer, Cockney spiv and the only able-bodied man of military age in the platoon