The filmmakers of Hollywood have never been afraid to run rough-shod over the events of history. From the poorly researched calamities of Titanic to the frankly risible Brit-bashing of The Patriot, past battles and tragedies have been repeatedly moulded to suit the purposes of Tinseltown script writers.Jackboots On Whitehall, Edward and Rory McHenry’s oddball animatronic war movie, mercilessly sends up Hollywood’s revisionist tradition, imagining an alternate World War II where English forces, having lost the pivotal Battle of Britain, is invaded by Nazis.
With a starry cast of voice actors, including Ewan McGregor as central character Chris, Richard E. Grant as a wild, foul-mouthed Vicar and Timothy Spall shaking his jowls as Winston Churchill, Jackboots is like Team America with added tea and crumpets – a parody not only of Hollywood’s view of England, but also of the pervading sense of self-righteousness that has pervaded post-war culture.
Like the two-dimensional view of war presented in British comics of the 20th century, Jackboots presents a mythical England of wholesome agricultural types and daring soldiers pitted against an army of identikit, leather-clad German forces.
Drilling up through the streets of London, Adolf Hitler (voiced by Alan Cumming) and his forces immediately seize control of the country, and it’s soon up to burly farmhand Chris to assemble an unlikely group of brave resistance fighters.
The McHenry brothers’ use of puppets is endearingly daft, and their recreation of a mythical England of green pastures and village fetes is amusingly nonsensical, clashing beautifully with the grey tanks and zeppelins of the kinky invading Nazis.
Their use of real-life historical figures is also brilliantly realised, from the cigar-chomping Churchill to Hitler himself, who wears (for reasons too convoluted to explain) the flowing dress of Elizabeth I.
Where Jackboots falls down, however, is in its script. Laugh-out-loud moments are surprisingly few, and once the targets of its parody are laid out, it has little else to impart. That’s not to say there aren’t a few moments of genuine inspiration – there’s an amusing reference to Independence Day late on in the film, and its repeated digs at Braveheart’s muddled view of history is a constant source of pointed jokes.
Sadly, Jackboots struggles to maintain its momentum, and there simply aren’t enough ideas to sustain its entire 90 minute running time – had it been condensed down to half an hour, the film’s better moments would have had more of an opportunity to shine. As it is, the middle of the movie sags, lacking the bite of Trey Parker and Matt Stone to carry it through the plot’s intentionally predictable slump.
Nevertheless, the film does rally in its closing scenes – like all great Hollywood epics, Jackboots culminates in a sprawling battle of bravery, tragedy and needlessly bloody violence, a sequence that would have Mel Gibson either punching the air with excitement, or quivering with embarrassed recognition.
As a comedy, Jackboots On Whitehall is far from perfect. But as a parody of all kinds of pompous, self-serving, jingoistic movies, its scattershot aim occasionally hits home with unexpected precision.