By Steven Sheehan.
Take a look back across Hollywood’s history and you’ll see a long list of memorable comedy duos. The best we seem to get nowadays is Ant and Dec.
Stan & Ollie looks back on the personal and professional relationship between comedy legends Laurel & Hardy.
They are a duo who influenced almost everyone you can imagine, in and outside of comedy.
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly have taken on the role of Stan & Ollie respectively, and they deliver a film that honours its subjects in the best way possible.
It starts back in 1937, at a time when they were at the height of their fame. We quickly get a sense that their playfulness is not just for the cameras but an integral part of their relationship off screen.
But all is not as rosy as it seems. Despite their success, a contract dispute with producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston) threatens to separate them.
We skip forward 16 years to 1953 where the ageing pair are performing in low-rent theatres around the UK. In the intervening years, they spent some time apart and are working to get things back to the way things were.
Norman Wisdom is on the rise and Abbott and Costello are the new comedy kings in Hollywood.
Hardly anyone turns up to see them and they appear to be yesterday’s news. Except those who do buy tickets can’t stop laughing.
Pushed by their unscrupulous and smarmy promotor, Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), they perform a number of publicity stunts and soon enough they are playing to packed houses once more.
It’s hard to think of anyone who could’ve done a better job than Coogan and Reilly in the roles of Laurel and Hardy.
They play their roles with so much love and affection for the comedians it’s impossible not to caught up in their platonic love affair.
Director Jon S. Baird never digs too deep into the underlying tensions between the pair. We see enough in their later years to understand some resentment and bitterness existed. But any relationship lasting 28 years is bound to have those.
Most importantly of all, Coogan and Reilly recreate the slapstick comedy of the classic duo to perfection. From goofing around on stage to pulling off some of their famous visual gags, Stan & Ollie constantly keeps a smile on your face.
They are also supported by strong supporting performances. Rufus Jones’ cheeky but greasy promoter constantly raises laughs.
Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson are wonderful and have their own bickering double act as Ida Laurel and Lucille Hardy.
Of course, although this is a biopic, it does take big liberties with the truth. But that is to be expected with a Hollywood film and neither does it matter.
Stan & Ollie are held in such high esteem by the cast and crew it shines through in every single frame.
Whether you know their work, or have never seen them in action before, this will have you hunting down their classic films once you leave the cinema.
It’s warm, poignant, clichéd and sentimental – everything you probably expect it to be. Just be sure to bring a box of tissues with you.
Stan & Ollie opens nationwide in UK cinemas on Friday 11th January