Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Film takes its hat off to Hollywood giants

Film takes its hat off to Hollywood giants

POIGNANT, funny and heartwarming, Stan & Ollie lifts the bowler hat on the greatest double act in movie history: Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Intricately designed as a love letter to their comedy genius, Jon S Baird’s film is also that cinematic rarity — a moving portrait of two friends later in life.

Rather than a slapstick comedy, it’s a subtle, sophisticated, gripping character study starring Steve Coogan as Lancashire-born Stan and John C Reilly as American-as-apple-pie Ollie.

It might be about two Hollywood legends, but Stan & Ollie is a British film through and through.

Written by Jeff Pope, who was nominated for an Oscar for Philomena, it uses the double act’s little-remembered Fifties tour of the UK’s music halls and variety theatres during the twilight of their career as a prism to examine their creative and personal partnership.

The pair criss-cross the country (a splendidly realised version of Fifties Britain), playing to small crowds in Glasgow, staying in dingy guest-houses in Newcastle, and biding their time before they make their own Robin Hood picture (titled Rob ’Em Good). But events from their past — told in sunny, economic flashbacks, in direct contrast to austere Blighty — come to play in the present and are set to derail the collaboration for good.

Nailing the body language, mannerisms and that particular brand of Laurel and Hardy chemistry, Coogan and Reilly are a revelation, exploring real-life personalities that are the opposite of their on-screen characters.

Coogan is stunning as Stan, childlike on screen, but the creative dynamo in real life, endlessly coming up with routines and oblivious to the toll the tour is taking on Ollie.

Reilly is equally terrific as the more laid-back Ollie, the seeming grown-up of the duo, who just wants an easy life — even as Stan drives the pair forward.

The story is told with impeccable craft and brio. Director Baird (Filth) stages an audacious six-minute tracking shot that follows Stan and Ollie from their dressing room, through a bustling studio and on to a sound stage, where they perform the famous dance from Way Out West.

The film is littered with classic Laurel and Hardy routines — some on stage, some subtly sewn into the fabric of everyday life — but this isn’t just a tribute to a golden age of comedy.

It’s a touching study of a friendship that develops and deepens as the tour goes on. You may come for the laughs but you’ll be moved to tears.

Stan & Ollie is showing at the Regal Picturehouse cinema from today (Friday).

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