Stan & Ollie

 

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This biopic of the greatest of comedy teams shouldn’t work – but it does so brilliantly.

 
Stan & Ollie

Laurel & Reilly. Or is it Coogan & Hardy? 

 

It’s a poor man or woman who doesn’t enjoy the films of Stan Laurel and OIiver Hardy who, in their prime, were for me the funniest ever comedy team right from the days of silent pictures, through talkies and, with the benefit of DVDs and television, still remain top of the bill. For sheer originality, imagination and slapstick athleticism they are unsurpassed. I always watch their films when they appear on television or when I delve into my box-set of the best of Laurel & Hardy because their humour is timeless and their characterisations are such a joy.
 
The thought of a film trying to recreate their story for the cinema audience of today seemed at first both unnecessary and nigh-on impossible. However, in the event and between them, actors Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly along with writer Jeff Pope and director Jon S. Baird, have come up with a fitting tribute to the comic duo that is both entertaining and enlightening, and appears to have been made with great affection.
 
Stan & Ollie opens in the late 1930s when Laurel and Hardy were at the top of their game filming for producer Hal Roach, never the easiest man to work for, as they squabble over payments and contracts. However, success in the movies is finite and as the films dwindle down the duo head back to the theatre origins of their early days. In 1953 they are booked on a tour of the UK but end up playing to poor provincial houses. Their promoter Bernard Delfont appears to be more interested in pushing a newcomer to the variety stage by the name of Norman Wisdom. Then the promise of making a proposed comic film about Robin Hood seems a distant dream. Instead it is Abbott & Costello who become the favourites of the day. Ollie’s health deteriorates and, as they are both getting too old, their last days are not particularly happy ones. However, although they had their ups and downs they still managed to stay together as a team until Ollie’s death.    
 
Both Steve Coogan as Stan and John C. Reilly as Ollie capture the humorous  essence of these two funny men as well as their touching relationship together. They are aided immeasurably by some fantastic prosthetics work – particularly in Reilly’s case – because at times it’s difficult to believe that you are not seeing the real Laurel and Hardy. They appear to be inhabiting the two comedy heroes rather than just playing them. Nobody else really gets a look-in although there are telling performances by Nina Arianda as Mrs Laurel and Shirley Henderson as Mrs Hardy, while Danny Huston as Hal Roach and Rufus Jones as Bernard Delfont show all too well how the comic partnership was at the mercy of their tiresome bosses. Altogether this is a moving tribute to the imperishable talents that were Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Ollie died in 1957, Stan in 1965, but they will never be forgotten.

 

MICHAEL DARVELL

 

Cast: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Aranda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones, Richard Cant, Sanjeev Kohli, Keith MacPherson, John Henshaw, Stephanie Hyam.

 

Dir Jon S. Baird, Pro Faye Ward, Screenplay Jeff Pope, Ph Laurie Rose, Pro Des John Paul Kelly, Ed Una Ni Dhonghaile and Billy Sneddon, Music Rolfe Kent, Costumes Guy Speranza, Prosthetics Make-up Designer Mark Coulier.

 

Entertainment One/BBC Films/Fable Pictures/Laurel and Hardy Feature Productions/Sonesta Films-Entertainment One.
97 mins. UK/Canada/USA. 2018. Rel: 11 January 2019. Cert. PG.