DAD’S ARMY – Charlie Mole
Original Review by Jonathan Broxton
“Who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Hitler, if you think we’re on the run? We are the boys who will stop your little game, we are the boys who will make you think again. ‘Cos who do you think you are kidding, Mr. Hitler, if you think old England’s done?”
For Brits of a certain generation, the lyrics to the theme tune from Dad’s Army will have a warm, nostalgic appeal. A massively popular sitcom which began airing in 1968 and ran until 1977, Dad’s Army was set in the small English coastal town of Walmington-on-Sea at the height of World War II, and followed the comic adventures of the members of its Home Guard, a volunteer force made up of men too old to perform standard military service, but who would provide the first line of defense in the event of a German invasion. The show’s characters and their catchphrases have become part of the British cultural lexicon, including the pompous and officious Captain Mainwaring (“stupid boy!”), the laconic Sergeant Wilson, the naïve Private Pike, the dour and pessimistic Private Frazer (“we’re all doomed!”), the sweet and introverted Private Godfrey, and the brave but habitually accident-prone Lance Corporal Jones.
Oliver Parker’s new film based on the TV series re-casts the main roles with British character actors, with Toby Jones as Mainwaring, Bill Nighy as Wilson, Tom Courtenay as Jones, Bill Paterson as Frazer, Michael Gambon as Godfrey, and Blake Harrison as Pike. The plot sees the men of the Home Guard visited by a glamorous journalist (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is writing a morale-raising article about the platoon’s exploits, but whose visit coincidentally occurs at the same as the British government discovers a series of secret transmissions being sent to Berlin from someone in the vicinity of Walmington-on-Sea.
The score for Dad’s Army is by the excellent British composer Charlie Mole, who has been working with director Parker since 1995 on films such as Othello, An Ideal Husband, St. Trinians, and Dorian Gray. Mole is yet another one of those composers whose immense talent seems to be inversely disproportionate to the trajectory of his career. Although his scores for those earlier Oliver Parker films, as well as things like the acclaimed TV series Mr. Selfridge, have received a great deal of acclaim, Mole himself seems to still be something of an under-appreciated unknown quantity, when the quality of his work suggests that he should be one of the leading lights of the British film music industry. His score for Dad’s Army just adds more weight to that theory, being a fun and enjoyable action score underpinned with more than a little bit of classic British pomp-and-circumstance and wartime derring-do.
Mole’s new main theme, “Auf Wiedersehen Mr. Hitler,” is clearly modeled on the original TV show theme, and is an upbeat melody with its roots in the wartime British music hall music of artists like Dame Vera Lynn. Subsequent performances in cues like “The ATS” and “Proud to be British” allow the score to develop a clear individual identity, although its intentionally old-fashioned sound may not be as immediately endearing to younger listeners as it is to those like me, who have had more exposure to music from the era.
Cues like “The Train,” “The Platoon Jungle,” “The Abwehr Headquarters,” the exciting “Jones Goes Over,” and the rather rousing “The Beach” engage in some more contemporary action music stylings, with heavily rhythmic ostinatos driving the main thrust of the orchestral music along. Cleverly, Mole weaves subtle allusions to both the classic TV theme and his new theme into several of these cues, with both the four note phrase at the end of the new theme (“Mis-Ter-Hit-Ler”) and the first four notes of the original theme (“Who-Do-You-Think”) acting as little recurring thematic markers. Stylistically, the action music has much in common with the music George Fenton wrote for his WWII animated film Valiant, and even harkens back to the original sound of composers like Ron Goodwin, which is something that hasn’t been heard in British film music for quite some time. Throughout each of them there are relentless snare drum cadences, heavily emphasized brass performances, and an overarching sense of adventure.
Elsewhere, cues like “Secret Rendezvous” and “Rose Goes to the Cave and High St.” combine swooning romance themes with swaggering jazz, with plenty in the way of muted brasses and brushed snares; later, the sultry “Come With Me” even has a bit of a John Barry-James Bond vibe, with some of the woodwind writing recalling the love theme from Moonraker, of all things. “Rose Goes to the Cave and High St.” also provides one of the best renditions of the menacing Nazi motif, a three-note brass flourish that subtly works its way into several subsequent cues, with variations in “Baby Hitler’s Paranoia,” the suspenseful “German Perhaps,” and the downright ominous “Berlin”.
In addition, in several cues, Mole interpolates little extracts from both German and British classical music, including a snippet of Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ in “The Train,” and several allusions to Elgar’s ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ – the unofficial national anthem of England – in “Proud To Be British,” “Captain Mainwaring the Hero,” and the stirring finale “That’s Enough George”. The album concludes with two songs, a vocal version of “Auf Wiedersehen Mr. Hitler” performed with gleeful non-professionalism by the enthusiastic cast, and a final refrain of the classic TV theme performed by the legendary Bud Flanagan, who was himself a wartime superstar as part of the musical comedy duo Flanagan & Allen.
I have a feeling that Dad’s Army will appeal more to my countrymen than to those elsewhere; this sort of England-specific patriotism doesn’t often travel well, and the strong sense of nostalgia I have for the period and the TV show will not be as strong in, for example, Americans, as it is in my fellow Englishmen. However, I would still recommend Mole’s work as being worthy of exploration; there is still a great deal of excellent action music, some very pleasant jazz writing, and a sense of this being a throwback to a time when film music was written in unambiguous support of the good guys.
Buy the Dad’s Army soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store
- Auf Wiedersehen Mr. Hitler (Main Title) (1:08)
- The Train (2:26)
- The Platoon Jungle (2:18)
- The Abwehr Headquarters (1:11)
- The ATS (0:55)
- Proud To Be British (2:08)
- Secret Rendezvous (1:36)
- Moonlight Serenade (written by Glenn Miller and Mitchell Parish, performed by Glenn Miller & His Orchestra) (3:21)
- Rose Goes to the Cave and High St. (3:44)
- Here’s Lookin’ at You (1:52)
- Captain Mainwaring the Hero (1:00)
- Baby Hitler’s Paranoia (3:26)
- Come with Me (1:52)
- Jones Goes Over (2:16)
- The Tanks (1:55)
- German Perhaps (2:37)
- Berlin (2:34)
- The Beach (4:20)
- She’s Getting Away (1:41)
- That’s Enough George (0:56)
- Auf Wiedersehen Mr. Hitler (Song Version) (1:52)
- Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr. Hitler? (written by Derek Taverner and Jimmy Perry, performed by Bud Flanagan) (1:06)
Running Time: 46 minutes 13 seconds
Silva Screen (2016)
Music composed by Charlie Mole. Conducted by Alastair King. Orchestrations by Alastair King, James McWilliam and Alec Roberts. Recorded and mixed by Paul Golding. Album produced by Charlie Mole.