Eddie the Eagle movie review: Sentimental yarn will have you reaching for the Kleenex
Published 01/04/2016 | 07:00
Twenty-eight years ago, at the Calgary Winter Olympics, an unlikely folk hero emerged. To the horror of the blazers in the British Ski Federation, a short-sighted plasterer from Gloucestershire won the hearts of the international public by competing in the Ski Jump - and coming last. Dismissed as an embarrassing working-class amateur by his team-mates, Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards was feted by the press in Calgary, and once hosted a press conference that lasted four hours.
His guileless enthusiasm charmed everyone, and while his British colleagues thought he was a joke, more accomplished skiing nations realised that Edwards' DIY assault on the Winter Olympics had entailed a huge amount of bravery.
That's the story told in this whimsical and good-natured comic drama. Taron Egerton stars as Michael Edwards (the 'Eddie' would come later), who has dreamt from an early age of representing his country at the Olympics. Knocked back time and again as he tries out different sports, Michael refuses to be beaten, and after finally realising he'll never be good enough to make the summer Games, decides to focus on the Winter Olympics instead.
He becomes an accomplished downhill skier (the real Eddie was no clown, and the world's ninth-fastest amateur), and seems on the point of being selected for the British Olympic team. But when he falls foul of the Federation's President (Tim McInnerney, looking suitably odious), Edwards is told he'll never make the grade.
Instead of giving up and joining his dubious dad (Clive Allen) on the building sites, Michael decides to have a go at ski jumping, undoubtedly the scariest of all winter sports.
He goes to Garmisch in the German Alps without a penny to his name, borrows skis and begins firing himself off the terrifying man-made launch pads, much to the amusement of the seasoned athletes training around him, who roar with laughter each time he fails. He manages to negotiate the 15-metre jump, but injures himself badly while attempting the 40 and 70-metre jumps, ending up in hospital.
Watching all this from a safe and sceptical distance is Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former American ski jumper who's now a snow groomer and bitter drunk. He thinks Eddie's an idiot, and a danger to himself, but the young man's courage eventually wins him over, and he agrees to help him qualify for the Olympic team.
The British authorities do everything in their power to stop him, even sneakily upping the qualifying distance in mid-season, but they have not bargained on Eddie's determination and resolve, and those qualities will eventually make him the story of the 1988 Calgary games.
I was living in London during the 1988 Winter Olympics, and remember the sneers of skiing friends who thought Edwards was an embarrassment, and hadn't "earned the right" to be there. I'm not so sure about that: propelling yourself off the end of a giant slide wearing boots a couple of sizes too big and a helmet held on by string should earn you entry to any competition, and at this remove 'Eddie the Eagle' seems a much worthier representative of the Olympian ideals than the likes of Linford Christie or Carl Lewis.
This soft, amiable and unashamedly sentimental film does stretch the truth a little in celebrated Eddie's achievements - there was no drunken American coach, and Edwards' father supported him rather than carping from the sidelines. But it does catch the man's DIY spirit and extraordinary courage.
Welsh actor Taron Egerton's Eddie is vulnerable but unstoppable, and Hugh Jackman brings his usual high energy to his portrayal of the amateur ski jumper's mentor. It's impossible not to be drawn in by the emotion, and you end up rooting for the working-class boy who took on the toffs at their own game, and lost splendidly.
Eddie the Eagle (12A, 106mins)