We could be watching Laurel and Hardy themselves as Coogan and Reilly deliver highly impressive performances.
When I walked into the cinema screen, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Stan and Ollie. Knowing only that it focussed on Laurel and Hardy in their later years, would it be outdated and uninspiring, or would it open my eyes to what these two comedy legends were really like? Within the first 20 minutes, it had already proven itself to be the latter.
As already mentioned, Stan and Ollie looks at Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (played by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, respectively) during their older years, more specifically during their music hall tour of England and Ireland in the mid-1950s, which proved to be the final tour of their careers. As they struggle with half-full auditoriums, relationship tensions and Hardy’s failing health, the film is engaging and has its share of serious drama, whilst still remaining light-hearted on the whole, which is only appropriate for a film with comedy at its heart. What is fantastic about this film is that it makes younger audiences, who are not entirely familiar with Laurel and Hardy’s work, aware of how talented and funny the pair were, and why they were so famous in their day. Nowadays, their style of comedy with the goofy dancing and slapstick skits are not all that common, and audiences my age wouldn’t necessarily find it particularly funny; by the end of the film, however, I found myself laughing at all of their onstage antics, which Coogan and Reilly replicate magnificently, finding the comedy endearing and full of charm.
Coogan and Reilly are outstanding, especially Reilly who transforms into the spitting image of Hardy. A gentle giant, he emits an innocence and almost naivety that balances perfectly against Coogan’s shrewd Laurel. In their portrayal of the pair’s double act, every nuance is carefully considered and accurately delivered; we might as well be watching the real duo themselves. Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter) and Nina Arianda (Midnight in Paris) star alongside the pair as their respective wives, Lucille Hardy and Ida Laurel. Henderson gives a convincing performance as Lucille, increasingly concerned with Oliver’s health as the film progresses and a little distrustful of the plans Stan has been trying to put in place for Oliver and himself, including a doomed comedy film based on Robin Hood, which the pair are trying to write and get backing for during their time in England. However, it is Arianda as Stan’s Russian wife Ida who is the true scene-stealer: her blunt phrasing and lack of tact garnering many a laugh. Lucille and Ida become a comedy duo in themselves, Lucille utterly despairing over Ida’s behaviour, and the pair are as much a joy to watch as their husbands.
Headed up by the BBC, and with a British writer and director duo (Jeff Pope and Jon Baird, respectively), Stan and Ollie is a wonderful testament to what the British film industry can produce. Nothing flashy, the film is a funny, heartfelt and insightful glimpse into the real lives of this renowned duo. Not only does it demonstrate their brilliant comedy onstage and behind a film camera, but we see the comic genius from the two men themselves that lay behind their success. It may not be winning any Oscars this February (which is an absolute snub), but just like the final weeks of their last-ever tour, Stan and Ollieis a complete triumph.
Stan and Ollie (2018), directed by Jon S. Baird, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment One, certificate PG.