Stan and Ollie – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Jon S. Baird
Writer: Jeff Pope
Stars: John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Steve Coogan
In the nineteen thirties, the slapstick comedy duo of “Laurel and Hardy” were a money making machine for the Hal Roach Studios in Hollywood. They were huge stars. Baird’s film begins in the forties when Laurel and Hardy’s star is on the wane. While their films were still being watched by millions, because of the terms of their contracts with Roach, they did not benefit financially from the repeat performances. They are in a jamb with their financial predicament exacerbated by having more than one wife and in the case of Hardy, a weakness for the horses too. They want to get work in a new Robin Hood movie and to convince the producer that they are still a valuable commodity, they embark to raise their profile on a tour of war bedraggled England in the early nineteen fifties.
The casting, which was inspired, was carried out by one Andy Pryor. Ollie is played by John C. Reilly and Stan by Steve Coogan. Even if the make-up crew had a great deal of work to do, their respective facial likenesses to the originals are uncanny. Their arrival in a small English provincial town illustrates how far they have fallen and but they are optimists. Initially playing to sparse houses, a young Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), the English tour manager, arranged various publicity stunts to promote the shows and the bookings improved. The arrival of their respective wives on the tour adds a further dynamic in that Stan’s wife Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arianda), who was born in Russia, has a clutch of great one liners and is a splendid foil for Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson). The two of them make an excellent second comic pairing.
But the film is about two actors for whom the end of the road is nigh. They are twenty years past their heyday, and in the case of Ollie, his health is failing. It is this sense of twilight which imbues the film but because of the excellent acting of Reilly, Coogan, Arianda and Henderson it becomes a celebration of lives that are being led to the full and on the edge even if in an increasing dusk.
Inevitably, this film is a trip down memory lane but in concentrating the story on the lesser-known, final acts of the Laurel and Hardy, story screen writer Jeff Pope and director Baird have created an informative film which reflects the less than glorious days that very famous people must endure when the spotlight no longer shines on them so brightly. It has a subtle message that resonates beyond the subject matter of Laurel and Hardy. It is a film to be savoured.