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Stan and Ollie: Good film? It certainly is!

Steve Coogan and John C Reilly star in charming portrayal of legendary double act attempting to revive their career

10 January, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as Stan and Ollie

STAN AND OLLIE
Directed by Jon S Baird
Certificate PG
☆☆☆☆

WHAT is the magic cultural ingredient that gives an act success? What alchemy, what stardust burst and explosion is at work that means a performer can capture a society’s mood at one given point in time and channel it?

This gentle-hearted, toastie-warm and wonderfully funny biopic tracing the final days of Laurel and Hardy’s time together asks that question.

What makes something aimed at entertaining us feel grand one minute, and passé the next?

Laurel and Hardy had longevity. Their film career started in the silent period, their first film coming out in 1927, but unlike others who fell by the wayside when the talkies came in, Stan and Ollie only added to their audiences: from the double act pratfalls when word cards were flashed on screen to playing with words that are as funny and fresh today when they first wrote them, they were truly global stars.

But of course entertainers have a shelf life – and while they enjoyed global success for a period of decades, there was always going to be a time when youngsters took over.

We meet the duo as they embark on a tour of rep theatres in Britain, in the hope that they can drum up some enthusiasm for their old act and score themselves some studio backing for another film, this time based on Robin Hood.

We are given the pleasure of watching them work out acts, hear of the artistic tensions between two people who have relied on each other over a lifetime, and how they reinvigorate their show.

Their wives Lucille (Shirley Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda) come over from California to join them, and add further sparks.

Ollie’s over-protective wife Lucille isn’t exactly enthralled by her husband being made ill by traipsing around regional rep theatres, while Ida, who has designs on being a famous dancer, is a bit of a Hollywood wannabe. (Ollie quips when discussing his marriages and subsequent, numerous, expensive divorces: “I might as well just buy a house and give it to a lady I hate.”)

It is part of the gentle fun constantly poked at all and sundry. Ida’s ludicrousness is not limited to her, but shared equally with every character – from the smarmy promoter to the Worthing seaside beauty pageant organiser, the upper-class toffs who want to meet the boys and even Stan and Ollie, too.

It’s a clever way of representing their own outlook on the simple absurdities of human existence.

You will already be enchanted by the time Stan and Ollie prop up a bar and start singing On The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine, and watching Steve Coogan and John C Reilly recreate the Laurel and Hardy classic is surely an early contender for 2019’s most charming film segment.

In fact, the whole film is pretty adorable from start to finish, and based on a true story, as verified by my colleague, Howard Hannah: he recalls being taken to Her Majesty’s Theatre in Carlisle aged eight to see them, for the first time in colour, as he puts it.

By then, their films had been relegated to Saturday mornings children’s screenings, so the young Howard had seen plenty of their physical comedy and word play.

“My Nana took me. I’d never been to a music hall event before and I expected them to come on at first but there were a lot of supporting acts,” he remembers.

They were worth the wait, he adds: “They were marvellous – just marvellous.”

And this faithful, kind story of two people at the end of a road well travelled reflects that. It too is just marvellous.

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