This gentle World War II-era comedy, which chronicles the private war of two military dentists who invade France armed with a couple of pistols and a bag of grenades, is based on one of those true stories so eccentrically preposterous that it could only have happened to Englishmen. 1942, Aldershot: Middle-aged Sgt. Peter King (Kenneth Cranham) and youthful...read more
This gentle World War II-era comedy, which chronicles the private war of two military dentists who invade France armed with a couple of pistols and a bag of grenades, is based on one of those true stories so eccentrically preposterous that it could only have happened to Englishmen. 1942, Aldershot: Middle-aged Sgt. Peter King (Kenneth Cranham) and youthful Pvt. Leslie Cuthbertson (Leo Bill), both attached to the Royal Army Dental Corps, share a deep frustration with the terms of their military service. King consistently put his career ahead of marriage and family life, only to find himself alone and passed over for promotion because of his age; he seems doomed to sit out the war. Cuthbertson wants desperately to distinguish himself in the service of his country, and no matter how many times he's assured that "a toothache on the field is no joke," he remains unconvinced that making dentures is as important as, say, flying dangerous missions over Germany. Though King doesn't think much of Cuthbertson's fighting potential the little matter of Cuthbertson's mishap with a live grenade in the weapons storeroom looms large in his mind he recognizes a kindred spirit in dissatisfaction. So when King conceives a truly loony plan to sneak away from the base and covertly destroy two German battleships threatening the English Channel, he recruits Cuthbertson. Or perhaps recruit isn't exactly the word, since King doesn't share the scope of his plans until he's already sealed both their paybooks in an envelope and mailed it to Prime Minister Winston Churchill with a letter of explanation, at which point it's a bit late for Cuthbertson to back out. The late-breaking news that the battleships have already been destroyed might have discouraged lesser men, but King simply sets a new goal: He and Cuthbertson will instead make their way to coastal Cornwall, "requisition" a boat and infiltrate occupied France. Shot in the warm sepia tones of bittersweet memories, this whimsical, unpretentious shaggy war story is the sort of film that looks like a small gem when you accidentally stumble across it on TV or at the video store. But it feels a little unsatisfying when its small virtues are stretched to cover a big screen, and its utterly English nostalgia for wartime privation (or more correctly, for the bucking up, making do and pulling together it inspired) may not resonate with non-English viewers.