Feature length versions of successful TV shows, let alone those originally created decades ago, are never entirely necessary. And many, including a previous film version of the British comedy DAD'S AMRY, are a failure. However, for those of us with fond memories of watching this gentle wartime comedy, this new film offers a chance to walk down memory lane with a movie of reassuringly gentle humour and pace, and a surprisingly nuanced expansion to feature length.
The concept of the original show was to focus not on the derring-do of our troops fighting Hitler overseas, but on the rather pitiful men left behind. Too old, too young, flat of feet - these left-behind men formed the part-time Home Guard, who really were part of Britain's home defences. The joy of the original show was seeing the clash between the earnest good intentions of the men in doing their bit for the war effort, and the reality of their menial and apparently pointless manoeuvres. No less joyous was the clash of personality and class within the corps - from Captain Mainwairing's rather pompous middle class solidity to Wilson's Oxbridge educated charm to Private Pike's juvenile incompetence and Private Jones' panicking.
I can report with no little relief that this new cast is absolutely up to the challenge of resurrecting those much-beloved characters without pastiching them. Toby Jones is brilliantly self-important but also heartbreakingly earnest as Mainwairing. Bill Nighy is tragic as Wilson. THE INBETWEENERS' Blake Harrison is charming as the infantile Pike. Daniel Mays is suitably oily as the wartime black marketeer, Wilson. Bill Paterson is suitably grim as Fraser and Tom Courtenay's Jones gets the best comic moments. But perhaps best of all is Michael Gambon as the flappy wittery adorable Private Godfrey. One might wonder what such a sterling cast is doing in a rather dusty TV remake, but I feel it's testament to the fondness with which this show is remembered that such acting greats were willing to take on small parts in a low budget film.
This isn't a movie with many laugh out loud moments, though it does contain those. Rather it is a bittersweet gentle comedy about ageing men trapped in decisions made long ago, longing for glory but frightened and overlooked. When Catherine Zeta-Jones glamorous German spy waltzes into town, there isn't much tension around whether the platoon will triumph. But in a handful of small delicate ways we realise why they would be so easily duped. This delicacy also extends to the introduction of the platoon's wives and girlfriends - referred to but never seen in the TV show. There are some clever and gentle digs at the misogyny of the times, but this remains a feel-good film in which Britain will triumph through unspoken friendship and common decency. Director Oliver Parker and screenwriter Hamish McColl also rather cleverly withhold some of the famous lines and the iconic theme tune to the very end, giving us a satisfied warm feeling as we leave the cinema. Delightful!
The movie is on release in the UK, Ireland and USA. It opens in the Netherlands on April 28th and in Brazil on May 5th 2015.