Stan & Ollie brings slapstick back move-for-move

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By Patrick Sullivan, Film & TV Editor

This British awards contender sees Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly bring the legendary Laurel and Hardy back to life in this nostalgic gem.

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the powerhouse comedy double act of 1930s Hollywood, and their slapstick style became synonymous with the era. They worked with Hal Roach in his production studio on over 80 films, most of them short, between the years of 1927 and 1940 before parting ways acrimoniously due to a money dispute with the famed producer.

The new film Stan & Ollie starts at the peak of their popularity in Summer 1937, with Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C. Reilly) passively arguing about their terms of pay as actors for Roach’s colourful, plush, Hollywood empire. However, the majority of the film takes place in 1953, where the pair reunite after years apart for a low budget tour starting in grimy, wet Newcastle with the promise of another film - a parody of Robin Hood - in the pipeline. The rekindling of their friendship is at the heart of the story, as is the spillage of their comedy into their personalities and how Stan, in particular, prioritises their work over everything else.

Youtube / Entertainment One UK

The prime audience for the movie is defined by generational barriers. While an insight into the duo’s success and style for younger viewers, it is pure nostalgic ecstacy for the older generations who may have watched Laurel and Hardy themselves or had admiration passed on to them by their parents. The humour is delightful and chirpy, and Steve Coogan is really on form as Stan Laurel, reproducing the physical comedy scenes move for move.

The pair of Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are cast perfectly as their legendary counterparts. Reilly is such a likeness in appearance for Hardy - after the ‘fat suit’ and prosthetics - it is simply astonishing to see when British director John S. Baird includes real life images during the end credits. The aforementioned Coogan’s performance is the better characterisation though, perhaps more for the greater focus on his character and his turmoil. He displays an irritable, unstoppable obsession with comedy writing and performing gags in public, all the while suppressing any submission to emotions.

Twitter / @Brum_Cinema

Stan & Ollie is only Jon S. Baird’s third feature film after graduating from an early career with BBC Television, after Cass (2008) and Filth (2013). The 46 year old Scottish director focuses on recreation here - the type of recreation which may go amiss for newcomers to the comedy of Laurel and Hardy. The final dance scene, much debated in the film’s story, is a like-for-like for the original Laurel and Hardy version, from every foot position to the timing of the jazz hands.

It is a joy to witness the gleeful dance in colour through the lens of a camera willing to pan around the performers and peer through the backstage for a different view. Baird aims to relive and update the comedy which made Laurel and Hardy so popular in their time, and he succeeds so masterfully.

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IMDb / Stan & Ollie / BBC Films

The two main stars are supported by three other players, who contribute to the same style of comedy off-stage. These are their wives, Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda) and Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson), and their sketchy, money-obsessed tour organiser, Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones). Jones and Henderson in particular are given some humdingers by screenwriter, Jeff Pope.

However, I find it cheap to use an over exaggerated Russian accent and personality - upright, luxurious, inhospitable - for laughs. The character Ida Laurel, played by an American actress nonetheless, albeit one of German and Ukrainian descent, represented that and yet, the audience still laughed hardest at her jokes.

Twitter / @bristol247

Then again, Stan & Ollie is a film for the slightly older Laurel and Hardy fans, and that faux pas is excusable considering the quality of execution elsewhere in this little gem. Coogan and Reilly prove to be an equal recreation of the legendary double act.

Stan & Ollie is on general release 11 January.

Featured Image: London Film Festival / Stan & Ollie


Did you grow up watching Laurel and Hardy with your parents or grandparents?

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AUTHOR

Patrick Sullivan

Epigram Co-Editor-in-Chief 2019-20. Engineering student turned film critic turned news writer - enjoying the most brilliantly strange route into the media world.

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