WFTB Score: 3/20
The plot: In 1940, Captain Melly is sent to sort out a dysfunctional mixed battery which is in no fit state to be trusted with a real gun. With vocal Sergeant Major ‘Tiger’ Bloomer at his side, he plans to put a stop to the overfriendly relations between male and female personnel. Sergeants (and sweethearts) Willing and Able value the battery’s unique arrangement and come up with a series of sneaky countermeasures.
With the Battle of Britain looming on the horizon, the army needs its men and women to have their minds on the job – the job of defending the country, that is, not the one uppermost in the minds of the male squaddies and females of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) who work, rest and…er, play cheek by jowl in their experimental mixed-sex battery. Captain S. Melly (Kenneth Connor) is dispatched to get the rabble into fighting shape, but he quickly finds out that it’s going to be a very tricky job, because the men and women of the unit are unsurprisingly comfortable with their intimate arrangements.
The ploy of getting Sergeant Major Bloomer (Windsor Davies) to shout them into submission fails, largely because he’s got Private Ffoukes-Sharpe (Joan Sims) chasing him around the place; and Melly’s all-out war on cohabitation faces resistance from all sides, not least Sergeants Willing and Able (Judy Geeson and Patrick Mower), backed up by Bombardier Ready and Private Easy (Jack Douglas and Diana Langton). Events quickly escalate as Melly becomes more power-crazed and puts barbed wire between the barracks, while the lower ranks fight back with underhand – you might say dirty – tactics. Hopefully, the boys and girls will be able to pull together when Goering’s Luftwaffe arrives.
Many Carry On fans cite England as their least favourite film in the series, and it’s not hard to see why. For while it never plumbs the depths of the desperate Emmannuelle, that film at least had the vaguest notion of an edge, of sauce, of parody, however limply delivered. And it had Kenneth Williams. Carry on England is propelled by the combined star power of Kenneth Connor, weedy and blustering, Jack Douglas, twitching manfully away, and Windsor Davies, reprising his shouty role from sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum (with little Melvyn Hayes in tow).
There’s also Diana Langton coming on like a cut-price brunette Babs Windsor and Patrick Mower failing to exhibit a shred of comic prowess (he’s since found his niche as a lothario in Emmerdale), together with Joan Sims in a role which doesn’t call for much range and Peter Butterworth in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Judy Geeson doesn’t do an awful lot, but relatively speaking she’s a rare bright spot in a distinctly unimpressive cast list.
However, the real problem with England lies not with the cast but the dreadful script penned by David Pursall and Jack Seddon, which takes a semi-decent idea (the ‘Home Front’ kept Dad’s Army going for ten years, after all) and ruins the whole premise with unrelentingly juvenile jokes. For example, just consider how weak a joke calling your lead character ‘S.Melly’ is – it’s the sort of thing a 10-year-old would raise a weary eyebrow at. Barely more palatable are the weak puns dished out by Peter Jones’ bumptious Brigadier – yes, they’re deliberately poor, but they’re no less dull for being dull on purpose.
And things are no better away from the wordplay, since nearly all the movie’s comedy is based around the humiliations dished out to Melly: getting knocked over, losing his clothes, getting knocked into a bin, using joke soap, getting knocked into something very smelly, having to wear women’s clothes, getting knocked down by the anti-aircraft gun, and so on. There’s some laborious business around the digging of tunnels and two or three minutes of dubious storyline where the previously-useless troops miraculously down four enemy planes, and then a daft Churchill-related joke wraps it all up.
I’m genuinely struggling to think of a line that made me so much as smile, but I suppose ‘How did he get into our army?’ got close-ish. Which is scarcely a glowing recommendation. Oh, and lest I forget, there’s a short scene of toplessness from five ATS women which is neither sexy nor funny, and serves no purpose other than to show how desperate the producers were to offer something for filmgoers hardened up (if you will) by the Confessions Of… movies.
Perhaps the pithiest review of Carry On England is offered by the film’s DVD and video cases. Above the title are smiling caricatures of the stars of Carry On: Bernard Bresslaw, Kenneth Williams, Joan Sims, Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Jim Dale and Charles Hawtrey: in this movie, all you get is a bit of Joan, and she’s not used extensively or particularly well (though that’s not altogether atypical). With such a horrible script, it’s hard to credit that England would have been any good with the whole crew alive and present; but the loss of nearly all the stars certainly plays its part in this film being but a tiny fraction as good as the series in its pomp. One, I’m afraid, for completists, masochists and insomniacs.