A gentle portrait of the British ski jumper determined to win, Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie The Eagle is a funny, feel-good and well-made British film.
Requiem For A Dreamby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s director Dexter Fletcher’s third film after his 2011 debut with tough social drama Wild Bill and 2013’s Sunshine on Leith, the musical based on Proclaimers’ songs which charmed critics. Eddie The Eagle is another crowd pleaser. At the time he became famous – the Eighties – Eddie was considered a bit of a joke. He was the only Brit to compete in the ski jump at the Winter Olympics in 1988 and he came comprehensively last. As the stereotypical plucky British loser, he became both the butt of the media for his perceived ineptitude and goofy antics, and a national hero for his unalloyed delight in having competed at all.
The film is a reimagined biopic of his life, using a mix of real and fictitious characters. It starts with the working-class boy in calipers (Tom Costello Jr and Jack Costello at different ages) determined to be an Olympian in any sport and by doggedly doing whatever it took – and failing. When Taron Egerton (Legend, Testament of Youth) brilliantly takes over the role as an adult – gawky, clumsy, with milk-bottle thick glasses and jutting underjaw, and still with the same can-do attitude – Eddie has been determined enough to become an Olympic-class skier, good enough to be eligible for the British downhill team, yet apparently not selected because he’s an outsider from the wrong social class. Eddie’s inspired solution is to create his own team – for the ski jump – where he’s the only contender, and this gets him into the Olympic squad. All he has to do now is to learn how to ski jump.
His parents (Jo Hartley and Keith Allen) are sympathetically drawn. Eddie takes his plasterer dad’s van and fired with naïve optimism drives off to the Olympic practice runs in Garmisch-Partenkirchen with no contacts, no money or suitable kit, but determined to teach himself ski jumping in time to qualify for the Calgary Olympics. Willing to put up with any hardships to make his dream come true, eventually he persuades a washed-up US former Olympian ski jumper, now driving the snow plough on the ski run, to reluctantly become his trainer. Hugh Jackman (X-Men, Les Miserables) is superb as the fictional Bronson Peary, the world-weary alcoholic who finds his mojo again because of Eddie’s enthusiasm. Their relationship unexpectedly develops into a mentor-pupil closeness that’s bonded with humour – and some ingeniously improvised training equipment.
Quite apart from lacking funds and experience, there are other obstacles to overcome on the route to Calgary and the Olympics. Purists said Eddie was making a mockery of the sport and rivals were jealous of the attention he was getting. Prospective competitors training with him were hostile. And the British Olympic selectors – personified by Tim McInnerney (Spooks: The Greater Good) at his most patrician – were snobbish. They tell Eddie his attitude is not professional, even though he is now the British ski jump record holder – albeit in the absence of any other contender. Eddie’s reply is that the Olympics are for amateurs. That principle is the underlying theme – it’s not about winning, it’s about the taking part.
The ski jumping scenes are spectacular – coordinated by stunt legend Vic Armstrong. Jumps are shot on helmet cameras, so we swoop at terrifyingly high speed down the 90-metre-high runs, giving us a thrilling insight into how dangerous it was and just how brave, as well as foolhardy, Eddie must have been to attempt these jumps in competition for the first time. This is augmented by the subtly Vangelis-Chariots of Fire-style soundtrack. The film could so easily have made Eddie a figure of fun. Instead it turns an underdog into a very British kind of hero. It celebrates his uncrushable spirit and all that’s inspirational about following a dream.
Eddie the Eagle is released on 1st April 2016 in the UK