It’s hard to think of two names that go as well together as Laurel and Hardy. Two iconic entertainment legends both born in the 19th century and yet still adored by millions in the 21st. It’s also surprising that a film about these pioneers hasn’t been attempted before, but it’s here now and the rather daunting task of bringing them back to the big screen falls to Oscar nominees Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. Aided by another Oscar nominee, writer Jeff Pope, and director Jon S. Baird this biopic follows Stan and Ollie in the twilight of their careers as they tour music halls and theatres across the UK.
They may be past their prime, comedy may have moved on from their slapstick shenanigans but their irrefutable charm is still in full flow and through their sheer hard work, determination and professionalism the dwindling audiences are soon forgotten and it isn’t long before the crowds are flocking to see the golden couple in what turns out to be their swan-song.
Opening with an ambitious all in one shot, we follow our heroes at the height of their powers from their dressing room to a movie set as we’re quickly introduced to their character flaws, quirks, vices and personalities. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are instantly believable, as Laurel and Hardy respectively, with their mannerisms and traits charmingly convincing.
Writer, Jeff Pope, explores Stan and Ollie’s off-screen relationship to great effect. Whilst the two weren’t necessarily best friends, there’s undertones of resentment and bitterness from both sides, it’s fascinating to watch what is essentially a love story, or bromance, between them. Featuring some incredibly moving and poignant moments, the tenderness and affection with which the pair regarded each other is clear to see as they realise you can’t have one without the other.
Holding their own opposite the boys are the two wives. Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel and Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy are themselves a unique double act and their time together is a point scoring highlight, however one slight misstep is Rufus Jones as theatre impresario Bernard Delfont. Whilst he’s occasionally amusing his exaggerated performance slightly jars amongst the subtler turns surrounding him.
Handled with sensitivity and care by director Jon S. Baird and performed with skill and astonishing attention to detail by the two leads, Stan & Ollie is a fitting tribute to Laurel and Hardy and a welcome trip down memory lane to a time when something as simple as putting on the wrong hat was enough to make the world a happier place.