The new Dad’s Army remake does an adroit job of pushing nostalgia buttons – both those wired to the sitcom’s Brits-at-their-best wartime setting and to its golden-age-of-TV heyday. But writer Hamish McColl and director Oliver Parker aren’t quite so adept at pulling laughs out of the material. This is a film that elicits affectionate smiles rather than guffaws. But the actors chosen to play Walmington-on-Sea’s Home Guard platoon could hardly be bettered.
Toby Jones is a touching mix of pompous buffoonery and copper-bottomed decency as Captain Mainwaring. Bill Nighy brings his familiar suavity to debonair Sergeant Wilson. Michael Gambon is a joy as the gentle, doddery Private Godfrey and Tom Courteney ideal as the excitable Lance-Corporal Jones, while co-stars Bill Paterson, Daniel Mays and Blake Harrison prove excellent fits for Privates Fraser, Walker and Pike. What a pity, then, that they’re given such creaky comic business as Mainwaring being chased by a bull or Fraser baring his bum. As for the story, McColl (author of the hilarious Morecombe and Wise tribute The Play What I Wrote) has come up with a serviceable vehicle for the Dad’s Army band, here sent into a tizzy by news of a Nazi spy in their midst and by the arrival in the town of Catherine Zeta-Jones’s glamorous reporter.
In places, admittedly, the plot creaks as much as Jones’s delivery van, but it gets everyone from A to B intact. A modest accomplishment, perhaps, but not to be sneered at and somehow fitting for a celebration of the British art of muddling through.