Amid all this month’s sombre remembrances of the Great War, it’s worth pointing out that humour has done as much to explain war — and to reveal what it showed us about ourselves — as any number of sober retrospectives and tributes. Best of the lot was classic WW2 comedy Dad’s Army, where Captain Mainwaring’s motley crew showed that even ageing veterans, army rejects and spivs could display the necessary spirit to face down Hitler. Though Blackadder’s final scene is more celebrated, the last few moments of Dad’s Army’s final episode are just as moving.
Now the beloved Home Guard sitcom is to be rebooted in movie form. Can we help you bluff your way through it? Who do you think you are kidding? (29 mins)
Despite the wartime setting, Dad’s Army was actually – like so many of British comedy’s greatest creations – about class.
The tension between Arthur Lowe’s pompous, petit-bourgeois bank manager Captain Mainwaring and John Le Mesurier’s urbane, genteel, upper-class Sergeant Wilson is the ‘sit’ in this sitcom. Sgt Wilson is Mainwaring’s social superior but he ranks inferior in the Home Guard, his words of counsel (“Do you think that’s wise, sir?”) invariably ignored. Wilson is unflappable, Mainwaring very flappable indeed. You’d say “It writes itself”, if that didn’t diminish the work of Jimmy Perry and David Croft, who actually did write it.
You could have cast the remake in your sleep.
Anyone could have picked out Toby Jones as Mainwaring, and Bill Nighy as Wilson, with their eyes closed. The supporting ensemble looks equally impressive, with Michael Gambon as the incontinent and doddery Godfrey, Tom Courtenay as the excitable Jones (“Don’t panic!”), Daniel Mays as the spiv Walker, Blake Harrison of The Inbetweeners as the mollycoddled Pike, Bill Paterson as the lugubrious Frazer, and Catherine Zeta-Jones playing a glamorous reporter. Beyond that? Well, a cameo from the TV show’s sole survivor Ian Lavender, à la Starsky & Hutch, would be a cute touch…
The life insurance policies of Jones, Nighy & co will go through the roof now, won’t they?
No. The fabled Curse of Dad’s Army was poppycock. It’s fairly simple: when the show ended its nine-year run in July 1977, senior actors Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier, John Laurie and Arnold Ridley were already aged between 61 and 81, so it’s hardly a case for Mulder & Scully that within six years, all four were dead. Besides, two other veterans of the show, Bill Pertwee and Clive Dunn, lived into this decade, passing away at the ripe old ages of 86 and 92 respectively. Only James Beck, who played oily Private Walker and died unexpectedly in 1973 aged just 44, met a notably untimely end.
What to expect.
It’s a caper concerning a German spy on the loose in Walmington-On-Sea, so you can rule out any ‘dark re-imagining’. Director Oliver Parker, best known for St Trinian’s, is unlikely to go full-on Inglourious Basterds or first-20-minutes-of-Saving-Private-Ryan with this, nor even last-episode-of-Blackadder (wrong war, but you get the point). Dad’s Army speaks to the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, namely that the plucky Brits repelled those northward-jabbing swastikas from the opening credits using little more than our make-do-and-mend ingenuity, our cheery morale, and a happy Bud Flanagan song in our hearts. Which chimes, of course, with present-day Britain’s cosy Keep Calm and Carry On cupcakes-and-bunting view of its past.
What not to expect.
Those swastikas will have to go if they’re expecting distribution in Germany. And Corporal Jones’ lurid tales of imperial oppression in his earlier military career, invariably involving ‘fuzzy-wuzzies’ who ‘don’t like it up ‘em’, will need adjusting for modern sensibilities. It’s political correctness gone… completely sane, let’s be honest.
Do say: “Don’t tell him Pike!”, “Stupid boy!”, “We’re doomed!”, “Don’t panic!” etc.
Don’t say: “I always preferred ‘Allo ‘Allo.”