Monday, 11 April 2016

The Eagle has landed to leave the establishment flustered

For those of us who are long enough in the tooth, memories still exist of the career of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, Britain’s lone ski-jumping competitor in the 1988 Winter Olympics.

In most cases, that’ll not so much be for his actually managing to land some jumps – and set new GB records in the process – but more for his excited, flapping celebrations after jumping.

It might not be the main aim of Dexter Fletcher’s ‘dramedy’, Eddie the Eagle, to rectify that situation, but one of the things that the film does achieve is to remind us that Eddie (real name Michael) was not quite the sporting buffoon that most will recall.

In reality, this son of a plasterer and a factory worker was a good downhill skier, who had a number of medals and trophies to his name and had only narrowly missed selection for the 1984 Games.

The film makes sure we’re aware of this – and then takes us on a journey with Eddie as he converts to ski jumping and sets his sights on exploiting a loophole in British Olympic rules that means he only needs to compete in order to gain selection for the 1988 team.

That, however, is without taking into account the British Olympic Association’s stubborn commitment to avoiding having someone from such a background sullying the team.

As only a slight aside, it reminds me of people in Lancashire saying that the only reason that the likes of David Hughes and Jack Simmons never got called up to the England cricket team was because the sport’s rulers were worried ‘they’d eat their peas with a knife’.

How Eddie gets on in Calgary is familiar terrain, but the story that has been forgotten is just how he got himself there in the first place.

It took real guts – or a slate loose, as they say of goalkeepers: make up your own mind – to do what he did, with no funding and against a background of being considered a joke.

The films adds a character in Bronson Peary, a washed-up former US ski jumper who finally agrees to coach Eddie, but this is pretty much crucial to allowing the eponymous dreamer someone to build a relationship with and bounce off in the film, as well as providing a sub plot.

The pace is good and it offers the chance to revel in some wonderful Bavarian Alpine scenery – Garmisch-Partenkirchen is Garmisch-Partenkirchen, while Oberstdorf stands in for Calgary.

Taron Egerton does a fine job as Eddie – complete with all his little tics and quirks.

Hugh Jackman adds a bit of Hollywood glamour as Peary, with more coming from Christopher Walken as his former coach – and all of which stardust presumably helps broaden the film’s potential market (it’s already earned its money back, apparently).

Tim McInnery is superb as the odious British Olympic official who takes a particular dislike to Eddie, while Jim Broadbent lends some delightful warmth (if more were needed) as a British TV commentator at the Games.

Keith Allen and Jo Hartley are in fine form as Eddie’s parents, and Iris Berben adds further class as the bar owner who gives Eddie a job while he’s training in Garmisch.

It even has the advantage of a sort of ‘companion’ album (not the soundtrack, per se) of new songs from ’80s stars, including the likes of Midge Ure, Marc Almond and OMD’s Andy McCluskey – plus a duet from Egerton and Jackman.

All things considered, it is a heart-warming, life-affirming film – and that would be enough to make it worth an evening out.

But there’s a little something else here too – a bit of steel at the core of what could otherwise be viewed exclusively through a potentially sentimental prism.

In being on the side of the ‘little man’, it gives one big finger to the British sporting establishment; to the snobbery and arrogance not just of the officials, but also the sort of people who were acceptable competitors.

It raises the question of just what constitutes the Olympic spirit: an elite sportsperson, subsidised heavily so that they can train and compete all year round, or someone who has to sleep in a van just to be able to get on the snow?

And that’s without getting into the question, which the film touches on, of establishment hypocrisy over ‘amateurism’.

All in all, Eddie the Eagle is well worth a viewing.

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