The 1930s saw the rise of two of the world’s finest comedy actors and performers, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Earning fans from America to Australia, the dynamic duo soon became a power act that everybody wanted to see. Fast forward to 2018 and the story that inspired millions has been a huge box office hit. Steve Coogan (Laurel) and John C. Reilly (Hardy) star in BBC Films’ take on the lives of the bumbling pair, encountering the miracles and misfortunes that the pair face throughout their final years as a performing duo.
It’s 1937 and after refusing to renew his contract with current producer and manager, Hal Roach, Stan separates from Ollie (who is still legally tied to the company) for the first time; causing a rift between the pair and ending their artistic relationship. However, after a series of largely unsuccessful attempts, the pair reunite in a bid to kickstart their flagging film careers by embarking on a theatre tour in post-war Britain, risking their reputations to have one final chance at stardom.
Arriving in the United Kingdom, the pair are reduced to limited audiences, back-street theatres and scarce bookings following a dire run of the first leg of their tour. Checked-in at a miserable and dilapidated hotel, Laurel and Hardy come to realise that their careers are worth more than the financial woes, low ticket sales and invisible job offers that life is currently throwing at them.
However, after a reluctant talk with manager Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), the pair decide to participate in numerous publicity stunts in a bid to drive sales for their once hotly anticipated comedy tour. From appearances, with their glamorous wives, Ida (Nina Arianda) and Lucille (Shirley Henderson) to prize-giving ceremonies, beauty pageants and signings, Laurel and Hardy finally strike lucky with the once empty seats and dry ticket sales in London’s theatres turning into sold-out shows and a prestigious residency in the Lyceum Theatre, but just when their luck is finally turning around, Ollie suffers a heart attack.
Bed-ridden and unable to perform, the star performer is forced to admit to Stan he may never grace the stage ever again – doctors orders, whilst Stan delivers the news that the film break they had been promised has now fallen through. However, determined to finish their Lyceum residency as a pair, Ollie defies his heart condition and performs one last time as the iconic duo that is Laurel and Hardy. The slapstick comedy that Laurel and Hardy became famous for is well executed throughout the film, sprinkled in various scenes that demonstrated the on-screen partnership of Coogan and Reilly.
Stan and Ollie is the perfect example of a fun and lighthearted comedy-drama. From a biographical viewpoint, it captures the ups and downs of the entertainment world, proving that not a lot has changed since the 1930s and the present day. A ruthless and incredibly narrow-minded industry, Laurel and Hardy fought their way to the top of it, similar to so many talented artists, actors and musicians of the present day, proving that no amount of wealth or fame can secure consistent popularity, audiences or financial well-being.
Scoring a respectable 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s clear to see why this film has been the hit that it is. A humourous, heartwarming and feel-good depiction of two of the world’s most celebrated performing duo’s, Stan and Ollie has entered 2019 with an array of nominations, being firmly in contention for the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film of the Year.
Full of touching moments, delightful humour and quick-wit, Stan and Ollie is certainly worth a watch.
Words by Paige Bradshaw