Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Stars: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Tim McInnerny, Keith Allen, Jo Hartley, Christopher Walken, Jim Broadbent, Edvin Endre, Iris Berben, Mark Benton, Rune Temte, Ania Sowinski.
White men can’t ski jump?
The 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics have already given us one feel good underdog story with the Jamaican bobsled team who defied all odds to compete, and their inspiring story was recounted in the crowd pleasing film Cool Runnings. Now we get another crowd pleasing feel good story with this biopic of British ski jumper Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, one of the most unlikely sporting heroes to grace the screen. He may be a forgotten figure in the annals of Olympic history, but his story makes for great viewing.
First time screen writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton have taken a number of liberties with the real story for dramatic effect, and deftly mix winning humour with some dramatic moments. Eddie The Eagle has been produced by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, etc) but the film lacks his usual edgy quality. This is a more family friendly film. Vaughan has handed the directorial reins to his friend, Scottish director Dexter Fletcher, who previously gave us the edgy and gritty urban drama Wild Bill and the musical drama Sunshine On Leith, which wove the music of The Proclaimers through a story of soldiers returning home from the war in Iraq and trying to readjust to life.
Ever since he was a youngster, the shy, scrawny clumsy outsider Edwards (played by Taron Egerton, from Kingsman: The Secret Service) has dreamed of becoming an Olympic champion, this despite his poor eyesight, his lack of sporting ability and co-ordination. Having missed out on Olympic selection for the 1984 Games, he set his sights on the Calgary Olympics. But he had to overcome a number of obstacles along the way to achieve his dream, including a lack of funding and a lack of experience. The stuffy and pompous officials of the British Olympic Committee did their best to dissuade him and kept changing the goal posts in an effort to keep him off the squad. His father (Keith Allen) also tried to dissuade him saying that the Olympics would get him nowhere so it was better to get a good honest job and settle down. His mother (Jo Hartley, from This Is England, etc) though was far more supportive of his aspirations.
No British ski jumper had competed in the winter Olympics since 1929, and according to the rules all Eddie had to do was compete in one competition to qualify for a spot on the team. Undeterred Eddie set off to a training facility in Garmisch in Germany.
There Eddie met Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) a cynical, hard drinking and disgraced former Olympic ski jumper who drives a snow plough. Somewhat reluctantly Bronson takes Eddie under his wing and trains him to jump and land properly without breaking his bones. Cue lots of montages of quirky training routines. But despite himself Bronson is won over by the dorky Eddie’s never say die attitude. And in helping Eddie achieve his dream, Bronson finds redemption as well.
The ungainly Edwards was mocked by most of the other Olympians, but his antics endeared him to the crowds and the television audiences. There is one small but telling scene when Edwards talks to a packed press gathering eager to hear his story; in contrast the official team representative talks to an almost empty room.
Fletcher handles the material in assured fashion and the film is lightweight in tone. There are many moments of slapstick humour, particularly in the first hour or so and the film almost seems like a sitcom. There are some quite spectacular nausea inducing moments set during the ski jump sequences that will have you on the edge of your seat. These sequences were staged using professional skiers.
The role of the nerdy and ungainly Eddie is a change of pace for Egerton after the Bond-like antics of Kingsman, but he inhabits the character completely and gets in touch with the nerdy side of his personality. He also shows a great flair for physical comedy. A buff Jackman is convincing as the cynical Peary (a fictitious character). His is a cliched role, but Jackman has plenty of charisma and makes the one-dimensional character work. And he and Egerton share a great rapport and chemistry.
Jim Broadbent is great fun in a small but colourful role as an overly enthusiastic commentator, while Christopher Walken brings a touch of gravitas to his small role as Warren Sharpe, the legendary ski coach who kicked Peary off the team for his unprofessional attitude.
The production design and costumes capture the flavour of the era. And the soundtrack itself features some obvious musical choices, including Van Halen’s Jump. Over the end credits we get to see footage of the real life Edwards.
Eddie The Eagle is cliched and terribly manipulative, but during the climactic ending you will have your heart in your mouth and you will be cheering Eddie on to succeed in his impossible quest. This is the sort of feel good family entertainment that is not made often enough these days.