Film Review: Stan And Ollie

Steve Coogan has just picked up a BAFTA nomination for his performance as Stan Laurel in this new movie, which seems a bit harsh on his co-star John C Reilly, who plays Oliver Hardy. But then maybe that's the nature of double acts and something reflected in this touching, funny film. When two very different talents work together as a team how do you keep things equal and on an even footing?

Director Jon S Baird's film follows the iconic duo in the years after their major fame. It is the 1950s and Hollywood seems to have forgotten them so they are on a tour of the UK. And not even the biggest theatres but the second string circuit. Although if it goes well they are promised a major gig in London by quietly ruthless promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), who is usually preoccupied pushing his upcoming star Norman Wisdom. 

The story homes in on the relationship between Stan and Ollie. For a lot of the time it is ambiguous how close they are. Is it a business relationship? Or – as double acts have often been described – a marriage without the sex? But every now and again we see the bond and the loyalty that binds them. They are certainly different personalities though. Stan does all the hard graft, preparing for shows and working on routines into the night, while Ollie is the bon viveur who seems as keen on golf as he is on performing. Yet in some ways they are such a tight unit it seems odd when their wives, Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda), turn up to join them on the road.

There is much to enjoy here, from the grimy images of 1950s England (soon to return after Brexit) to the spot-on comedy sketches to the complex dynamic between the stars. You can't help smiling when Coogan and Reilly recreate some of their most famous routines, such as the dance from Way Out West. You might also shed a small tear in some of the more intimate moments between them.

While it's a shame that Reilly has not had a BAFTA nod – the Oscars might balance things of course – maybe this film is more of a landmark for Coogan. It might just be the first time he has played a role onscreen where there is no hint whatsoever of Alan Partridge in the performance. 

Stan and Ollie is in cinemas now.


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