Mum’s Army: why the women of Walmington are on top in the Dad’s Army movie

Catherine Zeta Jones isn't the only woman causing a stir in the Dad's Army remake

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Captain Mainwaring’s wife speaks!

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For anyone who knows the Dad’s Army TV series, this fact alone will be enough to tell you that the movie version is marching to a very different tune. 

In the original series, Mrs Mainwaring is a recluse, a woman who “hasn’t left the house since Munich”, according to Captain Mainwaring. She is the perfect running gag, heard about but not seen, the beloved “little woman” at the heart of Mainwaring’s silly little universe.

The movie version does away with all that comedy coyness, and puts Captain Mainwaring’s wife on the front line.

Elizabeth Mainwaring (played with blustering efficiency by Felicity Montagu) doesn’t just talk in the film: she is the one who wears the trousers, bossing her husband about in public and bringing the wives of Walmington-On-Sea under her wing.

“Man and woman united in common cause,” Elizabeth trumpets proudly, as she marshals the ladies of the town into making bandages for the Home Guard.

“Whatever you say dear,” Captain Mainwaring replies bashfully.

This bayonet charge for an equal marital footing inevitably takes the film a long way from the television original. For one thing, we see much more of the Home Guard’s home lives than we ever did in the TV series, and not just over at the Mainwarings.

‘Uncle’ Arthur Wilson is always seen at Private Pike’s house, enticed by his Mum Mavis’s ‘roly poly’ pudding. Corporal Jones is more than capable of ‘slipping a sausage’ to one of the women waiting for rations outside his butcher’s shop (apparently, there is life in the old dog yet).

Then there is alluring journalist Rose Winters (played by Catherine Zeta Jones), whose tempting advances threaten to set off a full-blown mutiny in the ranks of Walmington’s finest.

And finally, the other women of the town have ideas of their own about who the German spy in their midst could be…

Whether this wins over Dad’s Army devotees remains to be see. The TV series, like every classic sitcom, is a delicate comedy habitat, where each character takes their place in the food chain of command.

Adding Mrs Mainwaring feels a bit like parachuting a rhinoceros on to the South Downs: brave, probably foolhardy, and bound to cause a kerfuffle with people who have always wondered what a rhino looked like without ever actually wanting to meet one.

Then again, maybe this is the best way to translate an adored TV series for a new generation? After all, how much movie mileage is there in a bunch of old codgers stamping up and down a church hall?

One thing’s for sure, Mrs Mainwaring is mute no longer – and that’s bound to set tongues wagging.

You can read a full interview with the stars of Dad’s Army – and get a free book about the show’s history – in this week’s Radio Times, available in shops and on the newsstand… 

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