JACKBOOTS ON WHITEHALL
In conception, Jackboots on Whitehall falls somewhere between a Gerry Anderson show see the likes of Fireball XL5 (1962-3), Stingray (1962-4), Thunderbirds (1964-6), Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967) and Joe 90 (1968) but with more realistic puppet faces something along the lines of the satiric caricatures of real-life people to be found in the tv series Spitting Image (1984-96). Maybe the soundbite might be to imagine Gerry Anderson having reworked the farcical WWII British comedy series Dads Army (1968-77) or the resistance comedy Allo Allo (1982-92). Of course, the work Jackboots on Whitehall reminds a great deal of is Team America: World Police (2004), which appropriated the Gerry Anderson puppet show in a work that satirised American attitudes and big-budget action films it is not hard to imagine the McHenry brothers having applied the same idea to the World War II drama here.
The McHenry brothers do a fine job of getting down the characterisations, colloquialisms and argot of the World War II era the opening credits are a near perfect recreation of the war comics that used to be a part of my youth. There is a richness to the design of the sets and models, even if the puppets themselves are lacking in much expression. The action scenes are well staged within the limitations of the miniature sets most notably the attack on Downing Street and the rescue of Winston Churchill with the team fighting off tanks. The film manages an amazing voice-cast line-up, including internationally known names such as Ewan McGregor, Alan Cumming, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Timothy Spall, Tom Wilkinson, and names more familiar to British tv screens like Stephen Merchant, Richard Griffiths, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Pam Ferris, even Richard OBrien, the force behind The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).
However, the tone of the film seems uncertain you are not sure if it is intended as a dark comedy or a satire of the era or not. Or even if it has been made as a childrens film or for adults certainly, there is some decidedly adult language and even puppet sex scenes. Yet for all that, it never hits the satiric targets with the same riotous farce of a Team America the film is at its worst during a clumsy slapstick sequence that has Adolf Hitler turn up to a Christmas party in one of the Queens ballgowns. The most effective and clearly satiric parts come towards the end where we enter a fantasy Scotland that seems to have been modelled on Braveheart (1995), including a line where Chris confronts Braveheart who tells him Everyone loved Braveheart even though there were rumours he was actually an Australian. There is an interestingly subversive charge to the end where the McHenry brothers allow Braveheart and his highlanders to gleefully overthrow Buckingham Palace.
On the other hand, the film is also one that trades in stock racial caricatures of Indians in singsong voices, apoplectic Germans with clipped Teutonic accents and coarsely vulgar Americans to the extent that you are wondering if the film really is a satire and not a promulgation of jolly, patronising Wartime caricatures that often held appalling racial attitudes. Some of the surprisingly serious moments, such as where everybody sings a hymn on the eve of war, give the impression that the filmmakers are taking all of this patriotic nonsense and stiff upper lip mentality a little too seriously.