Biopics are hard things to get right, but picking a character so surreal it seems like a fantasy creation may well make it much easier. If you have never heard of Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards, you were clearly not in Britain in 1988, and if you have, you may find Eddie the Eagle slightly more fiction than fact. But the truth remains: there was a young man called Eddie that, against all odds, managed to qualify for the ’88 Winter Olympics for ski jumping, and didn’t die in the process.
Olympic dreamer Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton, the kid from The Kingsman) doesn’t really care in what sport he’ll qualify, as long as he gets to take part. Supported by his mother (Jo Hartley) and cut short by his pragmatic dad (Mark Benton) who wants him to become a plasterer, Eddie soon focuses his attention on the Winter Olympics and starts piling awards for skiing. When the British Olympic Committee is not keen on having him on the team, Eddie decides to try a sport where there is virtually no British competition – ski jumping. In the German slopes (as there isn’t much snow in the UK… or slopes…or stable weather for that matter) Eddie meets American black sheep and former champion Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) who decides to help the crazy Brit succeed in his dream of becoming an Olympian.
Produced by the same folk that gave us The Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eddie the Eagle is yet another sports story about a British underdog going against all odds, and if you can spot some Cool Runnings inspiration, you’re not the only one. But where this film separates itself from the majority of the feel-good crazy person goes for the title stories, is that Eddie doesn’t win gold, or silver, or even bronze – he just manages to qualify by something resembling a miracle, delivers a mediocre performance (by world standards, though he does reach the new British record), and goes home a happy man. One can say it’s the perfect example of the true Olympic spirit – that bullshit about what matters is not winning, but taking part. Of course, the somewhat sentimental, circle-closing ending (where, spoiler alert, Eddie is accepted by his father and Peary gets closure with his former coach Warren Sharp, played by a cameo-y Christopher Walken) couldn’t be further from original, but in all other aspects, Eddie the Eagle, simply put, wins because Eddie doesn’t.
Taron Egerton shows once more his lovely face against the British class system, but here in a very different, way more challenging role. The way he embraces his character (and the careful attention to detail he gives to play a somewhat slow, definitely crazy, yet not stupid man) confirms him as one of the most interesting up and coming young actors. As for Mr. Wolverine, who else could play so perfectly the crazy, jacket-less American better?
Director Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith, Wild Bill) manages to give a spin to the usual sports story, as he shoots it in such a distinctive way that we’ll definitely see copied over and over for all the new sports movies from now on. The jumps themselves, who go from a fast point of view to an almost cartoonish, surreal yet epic depiction of the flight, are as intrepid and close to the real thing as one can get without risking to break one’s neck – kudos to cinematographer George Richmond (who also worked on Kingsman) and editor Martin Walsh (V for Vendetta) not to falter on the action just because it’s kind of a bio-comedy.
Come for the insanity; stay for the recklessness. Eddie the Eagle is probably, as Peary would put it, as satisfying as making love to Bo Derek.
Eddie the Eagle will land in UK cinemas 1st April 2016