Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Jon S Baird
Stars: Steve Coogan, John C Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones, Danny Huston.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the most popular comic duo of their era having made some 107 films, including 32 short films and 23 full length features between 1927-1950. The pair left Hal Roach (played here by Danny Huston) and his studios in the mid-40s after the filming of 1939’s poorly received Zenobia which starred Hardy without Laurel, and the tensions between them over creative freedom were more obvious. But their films became more formulaic and less popular. By the 50s they were past their prime and their slapstick routines had become passé.
In 1953 the pair embarked on a tour of Britain’s music halls, hoping to revive their popularity and their fading fortunes. Their smarmy and slightly unscrupulous tour manager Delfort (Rufus Jones, from Paddington, etc) has booked them into second rate hotels and small venues. They also hoped to shoot Rob ‘Em Good, a Robin Hood parody, while in England, but the project was never realised. Stan is still a little bitter at Hardy over a failed movie deal, and there is some tension between the pair as they embark on the gruelling tour. Initially the pair played to half empty theatres, but as the tour continued, they began playing to packed houses at the impressive Lyceum Theatre. But the hectic pace of the tour took its toll on Hardy’s failing health.
Stan & Ollie is based on the book Laurel And Hardy: The British Tours, written by A J Marriott, which covered their pair’s tour of Britain during their twilight years. The script has been written by Jeff Pope (Philomena, etc) and is empathetic and tinged with a strong touch of nostalgia for a forgotten era and its focus on the strong friendship between the two men gives the material a bittersweet edge. The director is Jon S Baird, who has worked extensively in television, but this gentle film marks a radical change of pace for the filmmaker and is nowhere near as brash, aggressive and abrasive as previous film which was an adaptation of Irvine Welch’s novel Filth.
Playing Laurel and Hardy here are Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, and they create a wonderful double act and develop a wonderful, natural chemistry. They capture their mannerisms and inflections perfectly, which is demonstrated with some actual footage of the real-life duo in action that play during the end credits. They totally inhabit the characters and their recreation of some of their familiar routines are affectionate and spot on. This is one of Reilly’s best performances and plays to his strengths and great comic ability (and it goes a long way towards redeeming him after the stinker that was Holmes & Watson) as he captures Hardy’s exasperated nature and his condescending air. With the aid of prosthetics and a specially designed fat suit Reilly captures Hardy’s larger than life personality and he brings a touch of pathos to the role. Coogan plays the buffoonish Laurel and he bears an uncanny likeness to the characters and he effortless captures his hangdog expression and air of perpetual glumness.
Shirley Henderson (T2 Trainspotting, Filth, etc) and Nina Arianda (The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, etc) also register strongly as their wives Lucille and Ida respectively. The quick tempered Ida herself proves quite a driven woman who often clashes with the overly protective Lucille. Their stories are almost as interesting as those of their husbands.
Even if you are not particularly a fan of the comic duo, Stan & Ollie is a poignant, sweet natured, sentimental and thoroughly enjoyable homage to a bygone era, and well worth catching. Guy Speranza’s costumes also perfectly capture the era. Cinematographer Laurie Rose (Overlord, etc) lovingly captures the look of the era. The film opens with a bravura six-minute tracking shot that follows Laurel and Hardy as they walk through a movie studio’s backlot before arriving on set to shoot a movie.