Wednesday, 24 April 2019

How Eddie got the jump on everyone

THE Eighties were in many ways a strange decade in Britain, even if the eccentricity levels were

THE Eighties were in many ways a strange decade in Britain, even if the eccentricity levels were noticeably down on those achieved in the Seventies.

So thank the stars for Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, who in 1988 made headlines worldwide for his exploits at the Winter Olympics in Calgary.

Edwards, whose first name was actually Michael, was a living embodiment of Stephen Pile’s 1980 paperback bestseller The Book of Heroic Failures: The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain.

With his coke-bottle glasses that misted up under his goggles at altitude, he could have been designed by a committee of tabloid newspaper editors chaired by Norman Wisdom. The story of what he did — or didn’t — achieve when he got to Calgary is relatively well known, so the filmmakers have also focused on what it took for Edwards to become the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski-jumping.

The real-life Edwards had been a talented downhill skier who narrowly missed out on a place in the Great Britain team at the 1984 games. He was also the world number nine in amateur speed skating, having achieved a velocity of 106.8mph.

His decision to switch to ski-jumping came when he spotted the gap in the market. Simply put, no one else from the United Kingdom had ever thought it worth trying to compete.

In this respect, and hopefully others, Eddie the Eagle is a close cousin of the hit 1993 comedy drama Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican national bobsleigh team who were one of the other big stories at the Calgary Winter Olympics.

Taron Egerton, best known for his roles in Krays drama Legend, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and Testament of Youth, plays Edwards.

He is joined by Hugh Jackman, aka Wolverine, in the fictionalised role of ski-jumping coach Bronson Peary, a former champion American ski jumper who quit the sport in his twenties after falling out with his mentor, legendary ski-jumper Warren Sharp, played by Christopher Walken.

The two come together when Eddie — having successfully jumped the 15-metre hill, entirely self-funded and without any formal coaching — is injured on his first attempt at the 40-metre hill.

Eventually, to qualify, he will need to jump a distance of 61 metres.

Together, Eddie and Bronson embark on an unorthodox training regime to get him up to standard and prepare him for the uniquely British brand of glory that deservedly awaits him as a heroic underdog.

Eddie the Eagle is at Henley’s Regal Picturehouse from today (Friday).

Review: Matthew Wilson

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