Despite a plethora of bad reviews, Oliver Parker’s 2015 film adaptation of Dad’s Army made a respectable $12.8 million at the box office thanks largely to the ever-reliable power of the “grey pound”, consisting in this case of a double whammy of nostalgic fans of the TV series and people old enough to have some memories of the Second World War. With such publicity, it’s easy to forget that this wasn’t the first film adaptation of the series. Like Porridge, The Likely Lads, Up Pompeii and other TV sitcoms of the 60s and 70s, Dad’s Army got a film spin-off featuring its main cast in what basically amounted to an extended episode with a larger budget. In the past five years or so, we’ve seen this trend undergo a renaissance of sorts, with varying results. For every successful transition (The Shaun The Sheep Movie, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa), there’s been more than a few duds (Keith Lemon: The Film, The Harry Hill Movie, Postman Pat: The Movie). Whether Dad’s Army belongs on one side or another, its commercial success will likely encourage more such films to be made. So, in honour of the film’s DVD/Blu-ray release, here’s a two-part list of five British TV shows that could benefit from a big-screen transition and five others that should stay in our living rooms.
Five that should…
- ‘Allo! ‘Allo!
The show: Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France, a womanizing café owner became a reluctant member of the French Resistance as he found himself entangled in a web of plots involving hidden RAF airmen and inter-Nazi conspiracies over the painting of a particularly well-endowed Madonna. Much hilarity, silly accents and smutty innuendos ensued.
Why: Due to the aforementioned demographic factors, this would seem like a logical step following the success of Dad’s Army. ‘Allo! ‘Allo! has a fundamental advantage over most British sitcoms in that its basic premise lends itself more naturally to cinematic storytelling: As a broad farce with intertwined plots, cartoonish performances and sexual intrigue, it recalls the commedia all’italiana of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
How: The most important thing for this kind of project to work is to put it in the hands of a director and screenwriter who understands the fundamental differences between TV comedy and film comedy, as too many adaptations are helmed by studio hacks or TV directors with little to no cinematic experience. In light of his recent success at adapting The Man From U. N. C. L. E. for modern audiences as well as his solid track record of zany McGuffin plots, Guy Ritchie would be an ideal candidate for the job. With a more streamlined plot and the right cast (Sacha Baron Cohen as Officer Crabtree, Richard Sammel as Herr Flick), ‘Allo! ‘Allo! could potentially transcend its TV origins.
The show: A 2005 TV mini-series starring David Tennant as the legendary Italian lover and adventurer, with Peter O’Toole providing the narrative framework as his older self reflecting upon his past.
Why: Although the character’s very name has become synonymous with heterosexual male seduction, it’s been four decades since we got a Casanova film generally acknowledged to be good – specifically, Federico Fellini’s Casanova, which starred Donald Sutherland as the titular hero. Lasse Hallström tried to put a more romantic spin on the legend in 2005 by casting Heath Ledger – who was then in the middle of his transition from teenage heartthrob to respected thespian – but the result left something of a stain on what was otherwise a great year for him.
How: One of the main problems with the 2005 Heath Ledger vehicle – aside from its hammy acting and asinine script – was that it was at heart a vanilla period romance that somehow managed to secure an R-rating on its subject matter alone. Watching a Casanova film should be like listening to a particularly charismatic drunk proudly boast of their sexual conquests during a packed night at the bar. It should be sensual and shameless, an NC-17 rated work of period erotica packed with physical and emotional nudity. Such a film would best be helmed by an Italian veteran with a proven capacity to make art out of potentially trashy material. With Oscar Isaac as the swashbuckling master of seduction and Al Pacino as his older incarnation, someone like Liliana Cavani, director of controversial Nazisploitation film The Night Porter, could give Giacomo Casanova the full-frontal treatment his life deserves.
- Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em!
The show: The misadventures of newlywed man-child Frank Spencer as he valiantly tries to navigate the job market and his day-to-day responsibilities as a husband and father without destroying too much property in the process.
Why: Arguably the most cinematic sitcom to ever hit British television, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em is as well-remembered for its spectacular stunt-filled setpieces – all performed by Michael Crawford – as it is for its protagonist’s catchphrases and mannerisms. Indeed its very premise is strikingly similar to Harold Lloyd’s silent comedy classics, with an extra touch of Jerry Lewis for the more vocal humour. A bigger budget and a wider screen could push a film adaptation beyond the borders of nostalgic re-treads and elevate it to a poetic spectacle of destruction, provided the director has the right touch.
How: As anyone who has seen Sightseers or this year’s High-Rise can attest, Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley have proven themselves to be an eclectic and innovative writer/director duo with a strong grasp and understanding of film history and genre. Of course, the biggest obstacle to a modern film adaptation is the character of Frank Spencer himself, as Michael Crawford’s performance is so iconic and instantly recognizable as to be virtually untouchable. Instead of imitating him, it would therefore be more prudent to cast an actor with a completely different appearance and demeanour who could nevertheless keep the essence of Frank’s appeal intact. John Boyega, whose everyman persona and comic charm made The Force Awakens’ Finn an immediately likeable protagonist, would be a most inspired choice.
- Doctor Who.
The show: You all know it. Time Lord travels across space and time, fights Daleks and Cybermen, meets historical figures, all while rocking impossibly stylish outfits.
Why: Like Dad’s Army, Doctor Who has been adapted to the big screen on two occasions, each film starring Peter Cushing as a non-canonical Doctor. However, these films are not particularly well-regarded among Whovians or sci-fi fans. With Doctor Who’s popularity now global, a one-off film adaptation would attract a wider audience and be granted a big enough budget to fulfil the show’s cinematic potential.
How: This could be done in one of two ways: Either you keep the current cast or you wait until Peter Capaldi’s departure to cast a new Doctor so the uninitiated won’t feel too lost. Given her popularity among the geek community and the growing demand for a Doctor that isn’t a white man, Gillian Anderson seems like an excellent candidate. As one of the most accomplished geeks-turned-creators out there, Edgar Wright would be perfectly positioned to write and direct. The story should be sufficiently large in scale to differentiate it from an extended episode, but not as big and bombastic as to lose its identity (*cough*Star Trek reboot*cough*).
The show: Derek Jacobi stars as a sleuthing knight-turned-monk in ITV’s adaptation of Edith Pargeter’s medieval mystery book series.
Why: The medieval mystery is a strangely unexplored genre whose best-known film incarnation is Jean-Jacques Annaud’s adaptation of Umberto Eco’s Name Of The Rose. Both books have in common a protagonist monk whose progressive reason-based values set him apart from most of his peers. It would be interesting to explore such a premise in a way that avoids the pitfalls of flattery and self-congratulation, by choosing instead to focus on how these different worldviews affect their approaches to problem-solving.
How: Cast Paddy Considine as Cadfael. When it comes to the story, any book will do. The important thing is to keep the focus on Cadfael’s navigation of faith and institutions. A contemplative style not dissimilar to the feudal films of Akira Kurosawa would be an excellent way of bringing that out.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article as we go through potential TV-to-film adaptations that sound good in theory…but should probably remain just that.