Rumours of a new Dad’s Army film have been circulating for some time now. Back in 2012 I offered some advice for anyone daft enough to try. It looks as though I wasted my time though, as in the past few days details have been emerging about what is to come.
We are told that a new film will be made starring Toby Jones as Mainwaring and Bill Nighy as Wilson. It seems that Jimmy Perry is lending his support as a producer and the show’s original vicar, Frank Williams, has indicated his willingness to play a cameo role if one is offered.
So far, not so shabby – Bill Nighy is one of our finest screen actors having demonstrated his range playing everything from a tentacle-faced pirate to an ageing rock-star. He is certainly capable of that diffident charm that was the hallmark of John le Mesurier’s Wilson. Toby Jones, likewise, has racked-up an impressive set of screen credits demonstrating his versatility as a character actor.
So where is the problem? Well here are my top reasons for thinking that a new Dad’s Army film is bound to be a dud:
- Do you think that’s wise, sir? Dad’s Army was conceived and written as a 30 minute sitcom. True, there were a few episodes, most notably the hour-long Battle of the Giants that stretched-out the format. But there is the problem – Perry and Croft just about got away with making that episode run to 60 minutes but it did look a bit thin at times. In 1971, Hollywood’s attempt to capitalise on the show’s success came badly unstuck. The great charm of Dad’s Army is that, in each episode, the bungling platoon make valiant efforts to overcome some challenge which proves to be utterly beyond them. It is a form that works brilliantly in 30 minutes: They end each episode as they began it – heroically incompetent and proud of it. But you can’t sustain it for 100 minutes. The Dad’s Army format is just not designed to run that long, as the 1971 film demonstrated.
- You can’t get it in the shops – or to put it away, how can you replace Arthur Lowe or John le Mesurier or any of the main actors from the show? Bill Nighy and Toby Jones are both fine actors but I can’t help feeling that they have been cast because they bear resemblances, respectively, to le Mesurier and Lowe. Jimmy Perry has said many times that after the first series of Dad’s Army, he and David Croft wrote the parts for the actors playing them and that, over time, characters and actors began to merge into one. Ian Lavender made exactly the same point about the new film. The danger is, that because both Arthur Lowe and Toby Jones are short and round, that Jones will be tempted to emulate Lowe’s performance rather than make it his own. A new film of Dad’s Army can never recreate the original so if it is going to succeed it has to do so in its own right. They won’t achieve that by mimicking what went before.
- Permission to repeat sir – the BBC have been repeating Dad’s Army almost continuously for years. That is fine, because the TV series is excellent and with around 80 episodes it takes more than 18 months for each episode to come round again. But periodically the film industry seems to lose all creativity and falls back on rehashing old successes. Just lately Hollywood has been through a period of reviving successes from the distant past. We have already had, or can soon expect, revivals of The Goonies, Police Academy, Gremlins and even The A-Team. The results are as lamentable as you might expect and I do not want Dad’s Army to be revived merely because film producers haven’t got the imagination to do something new.
- Resisting the Aggressor – the only credible reason I can think of, for reviving Dad’s Army at this time, is to tap into the prevailing mood in the UK that is fuelling the rise of Ukip. There is, it has to be said, some similarity between the nascent anti-everything political movement and the Walmington-on-Sea platoon – both being bumbling self-proclaimed saviours of blighty headed by a charismatic leader with delusions of competence. But it’s not an association that most fans of Dad’s Army will want to see.
Only time will tell how the new film works out, but I must say that I fear the worst. Whatever happens we’ll keep you updated here and through the Walmington-on-Line Twitter stream.