By Debra (UK)
There had been a few intermittent rumblings and advance murmurings both good and bad some time before the long-anticipated release of this film, so it was with trepidation that I sat down in the local cinema which was unusually full. Indeed, we prefer to pre-book seats and had been very lucky to get the seats we wanted; such was the degree of nostalgia for the TV series. I was never a huge fan of the TV series – it appealed more to my father’s era for one thing, and having seen the series, developed my own likes and preferences (or otherwise) for the various main characters. I also had misgivings about the TV series’ because in my opinion some of the episodes (particularly the later ones) seemed to me to be more a series of mildly funny events, rather than a cohesive storyline. I am, however, a fan of Catherine Zeta Jones and from what I had gathered, this was a project she had championed, so it was with some mixed feelings and trepidation that I sat down to watch the film.
From the first opening, I was captivated. The film opens with a Home Guard training exercise, and moves swiftly from amusing to very funny, with nothing overdone. Toby Jones is magnificent as Captain Mainwaring! In fact, the assembled cast put on the most marvellous collective performance. Not one individual actor made any attempt to “outdo” any other; the cast “jell” together as a family as if they never acted with anyone else and it is a joy to behold. If this project is something Catherine Zeta Jones has put together, I definitely want to see more of what she can do.
With the nostalgic, relaxed tempo of a Glenn Miller classic, the film strolls through the story it has to tell. There are neat touches of realism, with the 1940’s theme unfalteringly replicated through each scene. It is also worth noting that Catherine Zeta Jones has not given herself the “plum” role; although she is a main character, the best bits belong to Alison Steadman, who is Lance Corporal Jones’ love interest (Tom Courtney), Sarah Lancashire, who plays Mrs. Pike and Holi Dempsey who plays Vera (girlfriend to Private Pike (Blake Harrison). Other notable ladies are Private Godfrey’s sisters Annette Crosby (Cissy) and Julia Foster (Dolly), who are the “brains” of the film (without giving away the storyline, they save the day).
Bill Nighy (always watchable) is dependable as Sergeant Wilson. This was the role made famous by John Le Mesurier and as a result Bill Nighy had the toughest job of all to pull off a sympathetic but alternative character interpretation without appearing to try too hard or adversely affect the other characters.
Daniel Mays also surprised and delighted with his understated performance as Private Walker. This was ably portrayed originally by James Beck and could very easily have become “gimmicky”, with the potential supplied by the “Spiv” connotation. Daniel Mays very neatly avoids this problem and supplies a very credible performance that pays a nod of homage to the original concept from the TV show.
Tom Courtney puts in a sterling performance as Lance Corporal Jones and the wonderful Michael Gambon provides a beautifully light performance as Private Godfrey. Ian Lavender makes a refreshing appearance as a Brigadier. It is a testament to his acting that I did not spot his identity until afterwards.
Captain Mainwaring: Eye front, shoulders backs. You’re a platoon guard, not a sack of potatoes.
Private Pike: I’ll catch him, sir. What does he look like?
Sergeant Wilson: We don’t know, Frank. That’s sort of the point with spies.
Captain Mainwaring: Stupid boy!