Title: Eddie The Eagle
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Major Players: Taron Edgerton, Hugh Jackman, Keith Allen
Out Of Five: Four
We Brits love an underdog – and we love them even more when they battle against the odds, know they’re not going to win and still give it their all. Which sums up the appeal of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the one-man British ski jumping team at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
The film named after him is a fictionalised account of how Edwards (Taron Edgerton) came to compete at the Olympics, but the essence of his story remains: he was never going to win because he just wasn’t good enough, but his sheer enthusiasm and likeable personality, along with his thick lensed glasses and permanent position at the bottom of the leader board, won the hearts of the British public at home and the crowds in Calgary.
The main piece of fiction is his coach, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former ski-jumper who could have been world champion but decided to invest his energies in the bottle. We, and Eddie, first meet him driving the snow sweeper at the practice slopes in Germany. They are, of course, chalk and cheese: Eddie drinks milk to Peary’s whisky, Eddie’s an optimist, Peary the other way inclined. But the younger man wears him down, persuades him to be his coach and the rest is history – sort of. Because Edwards did have a coach. It just wasn’t Peary.
Director Dexter Fletcher knows a feel good story when he sees one. His last one was Sunshine On Leith, based on the music of The Proclaimers, and which went down well with audiences. And he’s on to a real winner here in what is, so far, easily the best feel good movie of 2016. The elements are all there: the underdog, his supportive mother and sceptical father, the unlikely coach, the many disasters on the slopes, all shot through with an irresistible warmth and good humour. If your heart hasn’t completely melted by the time the 110 minutes are up, it must be made of ice.
Taron Edgerton has been quite open about not doing much on skis in the film, leaving it to the stunt guys and professional skiers. You can’t blame him. The look of the 70 metre slope is daunting enough, but the view from the 90 metres one is positively vertigo-inducing – assuming you don’t have it already. But the combination of special effects and stunts work a treat and you totally buy into the package.
Edgerton wouldn’t have been the first name that came to mind to play the awkward Edwards, especially after the slick Kingsman:The Secret Service, but he’s a great choice, capturing the all-essential spirit of the man. And, yet again, he has an older, more experienced actor to act alongside: it was Colin Firth in Kingsman, it’s Hugh Jackman here, looking remarkably well preserved for a character with such a taste for booze and fags, but nonetheless having a great time in the role.
The rest of the cast is stuffed with British class acts. Keith Allen as Edwards Senior, who dreamed of being a plasterer: Jim Broadbent as the British TV skiing commentator who can’t wait to tell the world that “the eagle has landed”: Tim McInnerny, complete with a terrible syrup, as the snooty head of the British Olympic Committee, and channelling more Blackadder than Percy: Mark Benton as his number two. And, as a touch of Hollywood icing on the cake, Christopher Walken as Jackman’s former coach.
Eddie The Eagle has charm by the bucket load – mainly thanks to Edgerton – as well as humour, warmth and a great story. One that, incidentally, doesn’t fight shy of mentioning that other legendary team from the 88 Calgary Winter Olympics. The Jamaican bobsled team, who made it to the big screen back in 1993 in Cool Runnings. Who wouldn’t have wanted a ticket to those Olympics ……?
This is a sure fire winner. OK, so Eddie The Eagle the man didn’t win a medal. He won hearts instead. And so will the film.
Eddie The Eagle is released in cinemas on Friday, 1 April and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 31 March.