Director: Jon S. Baird
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arlanda, Rufus Jones, Danny Huston, Susy Kane, Roger Ringrose
Written by: Jeff Pope
Running Time: 97 mins
Release date: 11th January 2019
There is no denying that Laurel and Hardy were the greatest comedy double act that Hollywood ever produced. With their mix of slapstick and wordplay, for years they ruled the silver screen. Yet their story went beyond the boundaries of cinema and Hollywood legend. In the twilight years of their careers, they found new adoration from the British public on a gruelling stage tour of the country. That same tour is played out in this warm-hearted, affectionate retelling which is a love letter to these two great performers.
Years after their careers were on the wain, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are hoping for a revival with a possible new movie comedy about Robin Hood. With little money to their name and just a glancing hope that the new movie will materialise, they accept an offer from British theatre impresario Bernard Delfont, to perform in an extensive tour around the country. With Hardy’s health declining and Laurel still bitter about Hardy’s solo movie he made years before, the pair take on the tour with two things keeping them going: the love of the work and the friendship that they have built up over the years.
As with many biopics of performers, their life stories are usually told, warts and all. Any imperfections are usually brought to the forefront and used for heightened dramatic effects and even though the pairing of Laurel and Hardy had its darker moments (it would have been very easy for the filmmakers to focus on Oliver Hardy’s womanising and gambling), these are mentioned in passing and never drawn out, for director Jon S. Baird and writer Jeff Pope are far more interested in the relationship that these two men have built up over the years.
Staying focused on this unusual tour, we see the pair preparing for their shows as well as wistfully conjuring routines for the forthcoming comeback movie. What it also captures is that Stan Laurel was the comedic brains behind the pairing, a coupling made by Hal Roach, which meant they only got paid for the days they worked and never for the box office and repeats screenings, meaning they were broke hence why the tour was so important to them.
Laurie Rose’s sublime cinematography, which plays easily on the eye as well as capturing the time and period quite brilliantly (again another first class production department, so many this year already), this is a film without a single bad bone in its body. It allows the audience to listen to these giants of the screen as they playfully banter between each other, bouncing ideas and even though the stresses and strains of the tour play havoc to their health, refusing to stop for fear of letting either one down. Although a dark cloud does appear, in the form of a past fallout when Hardy, still under contract with Roach, was forced to make a film without Laurel, their enduring friendship pulls them through.
The performances are outstanding from everyone. Rufus Jones as Bernard Delfont is sometimes scheming, sometimes cowardly yet works on a comedic level. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arlanda, as the wives, Lucille Hardy and Ida Laurel, are a comedy act in themselves and you could probably make a movie just about them. They bicker and fuss, all the while having great affection for their husbands. Both could have easily stolen the film right under the noses of the leads but they are a tough act to compete with.
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are remarkable as Stan and Ollie. Coogan, with great gentleness, unable to really get tough, even when others are taken the pair for granted, is a revelation. He has proved his comic prowess with Alan Partridge and the like, and he has shown his dramatic arm with Philomena, here balances both with ease. After minutes, you forget you are watching Coogan, instead, Stan Laurel is on screen with his wide-eyed childish charm. John C. Reilly, still recovering from the disastrous Holmes and Watson, manages to push that film aside of a quite beautiful performance of the gentle giant of Oliver Hardy. With incredible make-up, here is a man who finds his love of women and horses too much to resist and yet all the while never wanting to let his friend down. Reilly and Coogan embody the pair and even when the dance from Way Out West is shown during the credits, you think it is still the two actors.
I loved Stan & Ollie. In a time when hatred and pain seem to fill the headlines, what a joy to watch a movie that is massively underplayed yet doesn’t need to be nasty or vicious. It’s a timely reminder that what we really need in this world is laughter, love and friendship. Bravo to everyone. You reduced this reviewer to laugh and to cry floods of tears. It is a triumph!