Stan & Ollie, PG, 98 mins - released in cinemas on January 11
It’s easy enough to see why Steve Coogan and John C Reilly were chosen to play Laurel & Hardy, but even so, the transformation, as they hit the big screen, is nothing short of remarkable. They absolutely nail the duo with performances rich in detail, rich in heart and rich in humour.
We catch up with Laurel & Hardy on what was to prove their final UK tour, just as they are trying to revive their film career with the apparent promise of a film which may or may not happen. It’s the carrot on the stick which keeps them going through an arduous list of dates which starts off with the smallest possible audiences in the smallest possible venues before building to respectability and then triumph – all thanks to the extra yards they are forced to put in through an endless round of personal appearances.
It starts to take its toll. They are getting on a bit. Their true glories are years behind them, and Hardy, it increasingly seems, isn’t in the best of health.
Adding it to it, hinted at in a confusing flashback, is a certain needle which has crept into their relationship. There is a resentment which is simmering away. When it erupts, it offers one of the film’s great highlights, a real insight into all the complexities of a relationship which was clearly never easy. Always with this kind of film, portraying real people, it’s difficult not to feel a trifle uneasy when we are presented with private conversations which are clearly at best imagined, but there is no doubt that this is a film which feels authentic. In the end, it is a beautifully-judged, deeply-felt portrait of a pair of comedy legends.
The cleverness of the film is that it isn’t just the back story it recreates; Coogan and Reilly also give us the boys on stage, and again the whole thing feels remarkably genuine, rich in nostalgia and delivered with evident affection as the audience rolls around in hysterics. And maybe that’s the only downside. Or maybe it’s simply the film’s rose-tinted view. We get no sense that this is comedy which could actually work now. Heresy to say it, but it’s difficult to imagine that modern-day audiences would find them remotely funny. But my granddad loved them; this film makes me think of him; and maybe that’s enough...