Of the several ways that a biopic of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards could have been approached, it’s hard to quarrel with the relatively light touch employed by director Dexter Fletcher. He knows, at heart, that what he has here is a story of a man doing things he’s told he’ll not be able to do. And he’s also aware that we’ve been down this path many times: the story of someone overcoming adversity, in this case a story already well known to a good chunk of its audience.
What Fletcher thus does, in conjunction with screenwriters Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, is take the Eddie The Eagle story lighter. On the surface, this is a riskier approach than it may first appear. Edwards, after all, was seen at first as a figure of fun in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, where he represented Britain in ski-jumping. Releasing the non-Brit winning novelty single Fly Eddie Fly soon after his return demonstrated the man’s willingness to engage with that fun, too.
But crucially, Fletcher is on Edwards’ side. This is not a film that urges you to laugh at someone. It instead coaxes you to laugh with them, whilst following what is something of an incredible journey.
Fletcher sets the tone of his movie early, as we meet a young Edwards engaged in umpteen pratfalls, declaring his unlikely dream to go to the Olympic Games. We’re soon, though, in the company of older Eddie, played with a delicate touch by Kingsman: The Secret Service’s Taron Egerton. We see that even Eddie’s dad, playing by Keith Allen, thinks he’s wasting his time. But we also get a flavour of the quiet determination of a man who doesn’t fit society’s expectations.
Not that Eddie The Eagle really wants to dig that deep into that. For the most part, the film veers away from exploring the array of characters in too much depth. Thus, you get the cipher-like head of the British Winter Olympic selection committee, played by Tim McInnerny. And then the assorted other skiers on the tour are naturally enough sneering at this outsider who they think is making a mockery of their sport.
If it all sounds a bit Cool Runnings, then there’s inevitably crossover, something the film at one point openly acknowledges. Yet the film gradually turns towards the relationship between Edwards, and Hugh Jackman’s washed-out one-time skiing legend, who ends up as his coach. Again, there’s nothing revolutionary here. The young pretender, with an Olympic dream, bringing the best out of the man who had everything and lost it? Even if you didn’t know the Eddie Edwards story, you could have a fair bash at where it’ll all end up.
And yet, Eddie The Eagle soars. The reason? The decision to go for a family comedy is a successful one, for a few reasons in particular. Firstly, Eddie The Eagle is a very funny film, with one or two bring the house down moments. It’s never less the entertaining, and consistently works ways to bring a smile to your face, without cheating to do so.
Secondly, the core performances of Egerton in particular and Wolverine as well hold the film comfortably well. You can’t help but root for Eddie in Egerton’s hands, with his apparent naivety shielding a steely resolve.
Finally, in the ski jumping scenes, Fletcher’s camera pulls no punches. I’m sure there’s CG in there to flesh the crowds out and such like, and I’m sure that Taron Egerton didn’t go to the top of a 70m slope, with a camera crew alongside him, and do all the jumps. But I didn’t actually notice. I was so invested in the film, that I was feeling every fall, every crunch, and the euphoric moments when the skis landed where they should.
Eddie The Eagle really is something of a triumph. It’s a broad British comedy, with a moment at the end that I don’t want to spoil, that I found extraordinarily moving. And, for the second time in my life, I found myself gazing at a screen, imploring this unlikely hero to land on two feet.
Fly, Eddie, fly…
Eddie The Eagle arrives in UK cinemas on March 28th.
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