For someone who grew up watching Laurel and Hardy, I had very high expectations for the release of Stan & Ollie. And the film, directed by Jon S. Baird for BBC Films and released in the UK in January 2019 to great critical acclaim, did not disappoint.
At first I felt somewhat out of place sitting in the cinema, surrounded by people at least as old as my Dad, but as the lights dimmed and Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly came into shot as the legendary comedy duo, memories came flooding back to me. Watching black and white films from the 1930’s and 1940’s featuring the great slapstick comedy of Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy had shaped many magical childhood memories with my Dad and brother. My Dad is rather a fanatic, and on one family holiday he even took us to the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Laurel’s home town of Ulverston. Consequently, discovering the story behind the scenes in this biographical comedy-drama was intriguing and at times surprising. Stan & Ollie seeks to portray not how the duo met or how they reached international success, but rather their turbulent relationship behind closed doors, detailing incidents of betrayal alongside marital difficulties and Hardy’s battle with ill health.
Rather than documenting their journey to fame together in its entirety, the film particularly honed in on their 1953 music hall tour of England and Ireland, documenting their fall from – and return to – grace and Laurel’s ultimately unsuccessful endeavours to produce a final self-written film together. In doing so, Stan & Ollie shows the perils of showbiz in full force and the desperation that the duo felt in the face of the insurmountable greed of their producer Hal Roach and tour organiser Bernard Delfont. Despite the surprisingly bleak undertones of the film, it nevertheless plays homage to some characteristics of their classic comedy routines, including Hardy’s tie twiddling, Laurel’s bowler hat mishaps and a recreation of the famous scene from the Music Box (1932), punctuated with witty one-liners.
The film transcends many genres and made me laugh as well as cry.
Coogan and Reilly’s performances cannot be faulted. Watching the film I did at times have to question whether I was actually watching the real Laurel and Hardy, so convincing was their performance. Coogan was perfectly suited as Laurel, and Reilly was completely unrecognisable in his role as Hardy, showing a far cry from his performance in Stepbrothers. Despite their matching bowler hats the film allows the viewer to really distinguish between the distinct off-set personalities of Laurel and Hardy.
Despite being someone who grew up watching Laurel and Hardy, Stan & Ollie shouldn’t just be exclusively reserved for those among us who are interested in black and white comedy. The film transcends many genres and made me laugh as well as cry. Stan & Ollie is surprisingly poignant film which ultimately shows us how you can never be sure what someone is hiding behind a smile.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Last modified: 22nd August 2019