The original cast of Ghostbusters.
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Dad’s Army and Ghostbusters: how to reboot a beloved comedy without ruining it

The news that both a Dad’s Army film and Ghostbusters 3 are in the works is great for nostalgia fans. But how do you go about updating something well-loved without wrecking it?

Nostalgic comedy fans got a double-dose of promising news last week when two film projects drawing on past glories were announced. The news of a Dad’s Army movie, co-produced by Universal Pictures and Screen Yorkshire, was a bit of a bolt from the blue. As far as I know, this hasn’t been a noticeable clamour for a new screen version of the cherished sitcom. Dad’s Army, about a creaky band of Home Guard volunteers during the Second World War, notched up 80 episodes between 1968 and 1977. It has already spawned one film in 1971; though not a disgrace by any means, it was lukewarm and diluted in the manner of most 1970s British sitcom spin-offs.

The new one will necessarily feature different performers – no CGI magic, thank goodness, will be used to decant vintage footage of Arthur Lowe and John Le Mesurier into new scenes. But the casting looks inspired and high-calibre: Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring, Bill Nighy as Wilson, Tom Courtenay as Corporal Jones, Michael Gambon as Godfrey and Blake Harrison (the gangly, gormless one from The Inbetweeners) as Pike. Mark Gatiss, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Daniel Mays will also feature. Will today’s audiences have enough awareness of the original property to make the new one commercially viable? Well, major studios do not enter lightly into projects such as this. Market research must have determined that there is enough residual fondness for the sitcom to make a film version fly.

Such questions need not even be asked of this month’s other big reboot news. In the 25 years since Ghostbusters 2, there has been constant chatter and speculation about when a third instalment of the horror-comedy franchise would be upon us. Various reports have indicated that there were one or more screenplays in existence; most stories held that Bill Murray was the common obstacle in getting another Ghostbusters off the ground. Give or take the odd Garfield or Monuments Men, Murray is all about quality control. In an interview with Variety this week, he talks about some of the different ideas that were floated over the years, including one in which his character, Peter Venkman, died and then returned to haunt his mortal former colleagues. Murray’s memory is of it being “kind of funny, but not well executed”. He also says in the interview that he would consider a cameo appearance in the third film.

A new Ghostbusters, it was revealed last week, will be directed by Paul Feig, who made Bridesmaids. This is excellent news. Even better is that he is working on the screenplay with Katie Dippold, who wrote Feig’s last film, The Heat, which paired up Sandra Bullock with Melissa McCarthy and breathed new life into the buddy comedy. The third piece of good news about this 21st century Ghostbusters is that it will be female-oriented. Populating a blockbuster with women – now that’s radical. Sure, Sigourney Weaver was a big and often amusing part of the first two, but she wasn’t allowed to be boy-funny: she wasn’t permitted to goof around on equal terms with the fellas (as, say, Julia Louis-Dreyfus does in Seinfeld).

Feig has confirmed that his film won’t have any connection to the previous two – so Murray’s involvement may be moot after all. This is unequivocally the right way to go. I’m all for apparent sequels that shake off any link to their predecessors (The Curse of the Cat People) or updates that rib and riff on the source material (The Brady Bunch Movie). In which case, perhaps we shouldn’t even be calling it Ghostbusters when this is clearly a post-Ghostbusters enterprise. PostBusters, anyone?

No hint yet of what the plot will entail. But I’ll throw my hat into the ring with this script idea: an announcement is made that a big-budget Hollywood franchise will be rebooted with an all-female cast, triggering a rash of “Can women be funny?” think-pieces, much as Bridesmaids did. This has the unexpected effect of accidentally cranking open the gates of hell, causing pop-culture columnists and op-ed writers around the world to be slimed. The second act needs work but I think I might be onto something.

Ghostbusters will have selected 30th anniversary screenings on 28 October

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

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Shami Chakrabarti’s fall from grace: how a liberal hero lost her reputation

Once, it was trendy to say you liked the former director of Liberty. No longer.

It might be hard to remember now, but there was a time when it was trendy to like Shami Chakrabarti. In the mid-2000s, amid the Iraq War backlash and the furore over identity cards, speaking well of the barrister and head of the human rights campaign group Liberty was a handy way of displaying liberal credentials. She was everywhere: Question Time, Desert Island Discs, Have I Got News For You. A young indie band from Worcester called the Dastards was so keen on her that it even wrote a song about her. It included the lyric: “I turn on my TV/The only one I want to see/Is Shami Chakrabarti.”

The daughter of Bengali immigrants, Chakrabarti was born and brought up in the outer-London borough of Harrow, where she attended a comprehensive school before studying law at the London School of Economics. Her background was a great strength of her campaigning, and during the most authoritarian years of New Labour government she burnished her reputation.

Fast-forward to 13 September 2016, when Chakrabarti made her House of Lords debut as a Labour peer. Baroness Chakrabarti of Kennington wore a sombre expression and a rope of pearls looped round her throat beneath her ermine robe. It was hard to recognise the civil liberties campaigner who was once called “an anarchist in a barrister’s wig” by Loaded magazine.

Yet Chakrabarti has also been cast in another role that is far less desirable than a seat in the Lords: that of a hypocrite. On 29 April this year, Jeremy Corbyn announced that Chakrabarti would chair an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour Party. The inquiry was prompted by the suspensions of Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West, and Ken Livingstone, for making offensive remarks that were condemned as anti-Semitic. On 16 May Chakrabarti announced that she was joining Labour to gain members’ “trust and confidence”. She said that she would still run the inquiry “without fear or favour”.

The Chakrabarti inquiry delivered its findings on 30 June at a press conference in Westminster. The atmosphere was febrile – there were verbal clashes between the activists and journalists present, and the Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth was reduced to tears. The report stated that Labour “is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism” but that there was an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”. It listed examples of “hateful language” and called on party members to “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons”. Many Labour supporters were surprised that the report’s 20 recommendations did not include lifetime bans for members found to have shown anti-Semitic behaviour.

Then, on 4 August, it was revealed that Chakrabarti was the sole Labour appointment to the House of Lords in David Cameron’s resignation honours. Both Chakrabarti and Corbyn have denied that the peerage was discussed during the anti-Semitism inquiry. But critics suggested that her acceptance undermined the report and its independence.

In particular, it attracted criticism from members of the UK’s Jewish community. Marie van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “This ‘whitewash for peerages’ is a scandal that surely raises serious questions about the integrity of Ms Chakrabarti, her inquiry and the Labour leadership.” A home affairs select committee report into anti-Semitism in the UK has since found that there were grave failings in the report for Labour.

Two further incidents contributed to the decline in Chakrabarti’s reputation: her arrival on Corbyn’s front bench as shadow attorney general and the revelation that her son attends the selective Dulwich College, which costs almost £19,000 a year in fees for day pupils (£39,000 for full boarders). She said that she “absolutely” supports Labour’s opposition to grammar schools but defended her choice to pay for selective education.

Chakrabarti told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “I live in a nice big house and eat nice food, and my neighbours are homeless and go to food banks. Does that make me a hypocrite, or does it make me someone who is trying to do best, not just for my own family, but for other people’s families, too?”

This was the end for many of those who had respected Chakrabarti – the whisper of hypocrisy became a roar. As the Times columnist Carol Midgley wrote: “You can’t with a straight face champion equality while choosing privilege for yourself.”

Hypocrisy is a charge that has dogged the left for decades (both Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman have fallen foul of the selective school problem). The trouble with having principles, it is said, is that you have to live up to them. Unlike the right, the left prizes purity in its politicians, as Jeremy Corbyn’s squeaky-clean political image shows. Shami Chakrabarti started the year with a campaigning reputation to rival that of the Labour leader, but her poor decisions have all but destroyed her. It’s difficult to recall a time when a liberal icon has fallen so far, so fast. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood