Everyone knows that there are rules in place in order to have a successful film adaptation. the filmmakers must know how to tell a cohesive story that uses the medium of cinema in the correct way as well as know what to change and what to keep. There are other rules of course but mostly they are specific to what you’re adapting, but no matter what, every adaptation is obligated to obey to one rule or chaos will ensue, respect the source material and characters. Today we’ll be looking at a TV adaptation, nay, a quintessentially British show, that got it right in the early 1970’s, but for whatever reason, felt the urge to try again in 2016 with disastrous outcomes. That being Dad’s Army.
Set in 1944, after the events depicted in the TV show, Dad’s Army follows the Home Guard of the fictional town of Walmington-On-Sea, led by the pompous Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones). He leads a band of mainly old volunteer soldiers on seemingly trivial missions so they’re made to feel important. During a training exercise the Home Guard bump into Rose (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a journalist assigned to write a report on them for a magazine. Unbeknownst to the men, Rose is actually a German spy send to recover allied invasion plans which pushes the men into playing a very real part in the war.
British films based on TV shows are much like any other adaptation, very hit or miss, but because of the pressure of the fans, many do end up being a miss after all. Granted, some of these films have be able to consider themselves equal counterparts to their respective shows, such as The Inbetweeners Movie or Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, but int the case of Dad’s Army, it’s a very shallow representation of what should be a laugh out loud film.
However, even if you’re a fan of Dad’s Army or not, if there is one thing that can be agreed on it’s that this film has an impressive cast of great British actors. In some ways, these actors do offer a good interpretation of the character they portray from a TV show, albeit a watered down version. Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring is fine, he’s still able to get across his delusion of his own self-importance. Michael Gambon as the distant Private Godfrey is possibly the standout performance, Godfrey is just so gaff prone and almost not knowing where he is or what’s happening most of the time, you can’t help but have a soft spot for him.
But a great cast doesn’t make a great film, a great script makes a great film, and unfortunately Dad’s Army doesn’t have that cohesiveness that we’ve come to expect nowadays. As a result, the scenes that should elicit audience laughter are just flat and nothing so much as a chuckle is brought up. Half the time, the film actually feels more like a pantomime than an actual film. the opening scene has Mainwaring and Co. chase a bull back into his field and the whole sequence felt a little unenthusiastic and pretty shallow to some of the situations that happened in the TV series.
Now on the technical side, something that bugged me and, I don’t know why I only see this in British films like this, is how soft every scene looks. There is a shallow depth of field on the faces that is pretty inconsistent, and it make the lighting feel almost dreamy. I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of how films overuse this technique, It’s very distracting when all you want is a sharp, crisp image so you can take in all of the visual information a scene offers.
Much like the great secret of comedy, releasing a film adapted from a TV series is all about timing. You have to judge the tastes of people and 1971, UK taste in comedy was very much suited to something like the nature of Dad’s Army. Slapstick was in during the 1960’s through to the late 70’s and Dad’s Army made it appearance at the right place at the right time. Of course, a good function that many films adapted from TV can have is to bring something back up to date for a new audience, in the case of this film, I think it wanted to try really hard to bring back the type of humor Dad’s Army was known for. But the ship had already sailed and 2016 was not the right place or the right time to introduce audiences to slapstick again, and no amount of Dad’s Army nostalgia could change hearts and minds.
Dad’s Army is a very uninspiring reboot of something that should just have been left alone. If there’s one thing I hate in adaptations like this film, it is the assumption that the filmmakers can discover potential gems to bring back on behalf of the newer generation. As Pink Floyd says “leave those kids alone”. Let the newer generation discover the brilliance of the Dad’s Army TV series by themselves like I did, and if they don’t encounter it, so be it. This kind of force feeding of nostalgia and/or resurgence ruins reputations in seconds, and this Dad’s Army film has a reputation so ruined, I bet you never knew this film existed until now.