Dad’s Army

 

The camera pans in on aerial shots of the English countryside, unmistakeable greens and browns of rolling hills and fields.

A pigeon flies into view and  the camera follows it. Then we see a train, meandering through the countryside. On board, a suspicious looking man rolls a small piece of paper into a cigarette tin. Two well dressed men stalk the carriage, then follow the man to an abandoned building. Realising he is not using a messenger, or at least a human kind, they chase in after him, but fail to shoot down the pigeon which carries the fate of the country.

The camera follows the pigeon, almost in comic fashion, as it turns and pivots through the air, gaining speed as the coast comes into sight. Then suddenly it pauses mid flight, stunned, drops to the ground. A member of the home guard has accidentally saved the day. Private Walker (Daniel Mays) has been shooting pigeons in an attempt to impress a girl. He is then called urgently to join his platoon.

This is our first glimpse of the new cast and they are filmed stalking through the forest in the style of a modern action film, which makes what comes next, all the more hilarious. They line up behind some bushes following Captain Mainwaring’s orders to proceed with caution. They all appear tense, guns poised as they wait for the command. Then the camera pans round and we see that their great enemy is in fact a large Highland bull. Mainwaring’s orders fall on deaf ears, as he turns and finds them nowhere to be seen. The bull then proceeds to chase him into a patch of bog, with the rest of the platoon running and shouting across the field in true Dad’s Army fashion. And with that, we fall comfortably into the story.

Director Oliver Parker (St Trinians films, Johnny English Reborn) and writer Hamish Mccoll (co wrote screenplay for Paddington) have taken on quite a challenge, making a film of one of the best loved British sitcoms ever.

Those involved have emphasised that this brave production should be considered as a stand alone thing. The film is an attempt to pay homage to the sitcom which ran from 1968-1977 and became an instant hit with households throughout Britain. To pay tribute to the actors (only one of whom is still alive) , the wonderful characters originally created by David Croft and Jimmy Perry. In other words, this is their take on the story, their take on the characters. And..don’t panic,  it works.

Parker and McColl manage to capture the essence of Dad’s Army. Walmngton-on-sea is still very much as it was. From the rural landscape, to  the village streets, tea shops and haberdashery. Wartime is symbolised by  building rubble and Anderson shelters. Crucially, It still has that very British feel.

The notorious characters of Mainwaring, WIlson, Pike, Godfrey, Jones are back (they even look so much like them), the famous quotes are there, with a few twists. (Who do you think you are kidding Mr Churchill!)  There is also the welcome addition of some famous faces, including Catherine Zeta Jones as Reporter Rose Winters who shakes up the platoon, (She smoulders in a channel suit) and Felicity montagu as Mainwaring’s formidable wife.

Sarah Lancashire is the great Northern housewife to Bill Nighy’s well spoken, dithering Sergeant Wilson distracted by an unfulfilled past. Anette Crosby and Julie Foster as Godefrey’s sisters. It is also nice to see Ian lavender return (Pike of the TV Series) as Brigadier Pritchard and Frank Williams reprising his original role as the vicar.

Mark Gatiss (Co writer of Sherlock) makes an appearance as the MI5 leader, tasked with informing Mainwaring of the spy in their town and doesn’t fail to hold back his judgement of the platoon, especially when an attempt to rescue Mr Mainwaring who has fallen from a cliff, leads to the disastrous unveiling of a state secret.

Toby jones is perfect as the mumbling, unfortunate Mr Mainwaring. Leading his platoon, he stumbles from one misdemeanour to another, distracted by the beauty of Miss Winters despite his wife at home.

Michael Gambon’s Godfrey is near identical to the original. The inbetweeners blake Harrison is ‘stupid boy’ Private Pike, who must show what he’s capable of when the Platoon’s failures bring war to their shores.

The story has all of the expected humour of the original series, with the odd innuendo which isn’t even necessary. A great script, a talented British cast and the return of our beloved Dad’s Army characters is all that’s needed to make this tribute a roaring success.

The Revenant – Edge of your seat tension

I went to see The Revenant last week and left the cinema completely speechless. I can’t remember the last time I was so affected by a film.

Based on true events, The Revenant sees Leornardo Di Caprio as Hugh Glass, a well-respected member of a gang of hunters who is left for dead in the American wilderness when he is brutally attacked by a Bear. Surviving against the odds, he must fight against the hard winter and tribal predators to make it back to base and to avenge the cruelty and disloyalty he has suffered.

Leonardo is back at his best as Glass. From the moment we first see him creeping through the forest, gun raised and ankle-deep in water, he commands the screen. And he does this for the entire 150 minutes of the film. As an actor, he is committed. We see every side of his character’s suffering; from the family he struggles to protect, to the physical and emotional pain of the bear attack and the subsequent betrayal by his fellow men.

Tom Hardy is almost unrecognisable as John Fitzgerald, Glass’ confidant who later betrays him. Driven by money and jealousy, he turns violent and lies and cheats to get himself home safely.

The Revenant is directed and co written by Alejandro Gonzalez (Birdman, Babel). Gonzalez manages to combine the stunning scenery, complex characters and tension of the film to create something extremely moving.

The bear attack is filmed in such a way that he audience become an immediate bystander. Cameras are close up, documentary style as Leonardo lies on the forest floor. We can do nothing as the bear proceeds to maul him, flipping him over and licking his face. He throws him around like a toy, and we watch gripped. At moments we see breath on the camera lens, which fades into the mist of the scenery.

Other particularly tense moments, which demonstrate the director’s sheer brilliance, include the moment Leonardo attempts to flee on horseback from a native American tribe, and suddenly falls from a cliff edge. As the camera pans down to reveal his dead horse, we then see him removing its organs, before climbing inside it to survive the blizzard. A beautiful camera shot reveals icicles perfectly preserving leaves on a tree branch. These visuals are thanks to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki who worked with Gonzalez on Birdman.

The majority of the film was shot on Canada and South America. In a recent interview for Radio 1, Leonardo talked about the challenges about filming in such conditions. He spoke of trying to warm up between takes, to avoid getting hypothermia, learning how to forage for food when there is nothing to survive on, eating raw liver and trekking for days at a time to find remote locations for filming, which Gonzalez insisted was done using only natural light. All of this adds to the intensity and the immersive nature of the film.

The Revenant was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and has won 3 Golden Globes (Best Picture, Best Director and best actor). On 6 February 2016, Gonzalez received his second consecutive Directors Guild of America (DGA) award for best feature film at the 68th annual DGA Awards. Previously he won the same award for the movie Birdman which went on to win three Oscars for best picture, original screenplay and director.

The Revenant is one of those rare films that that pulls you in and keeps you there. It’s ultimately a tale about humanity. And that’s why it works. That and a perfect combination of a committed cast and crew.