Like so many icons in history, no matter their field, you might never have seen anything they’ve done, but you know the name. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are the double act that all those that followed aspired to be. Not merely to entertain, but share a spark that ignited the second they walked into a room together. The story of these comedic legends is one that had its highs, and unavoidable lows and Stan & Ollie is a beautiful film to be educated on it.
Filth director (honestly) John S. Baird begins with a one-shot of Stan and Ollie walking through a studio backlot and a road paved with their beaming success. Regardless of their issues (ex-wives clearing out their bank account, and lousy studio deals), the two are joined at the hip and both Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly establish a flawless rapport to ensure thi bond is a believable one. John C. Reilly disappears behind the ‘tash and puffed cheeks of Oliver Hardy, flapping his tie at passersby and his problems, keen to look on the bright side of things rather than the issues that are coming round the corner. Meanwhile, Coogan (already a master of mimicry) absorbs the smarter than he looks Stan Laurel, playing the dopey other half of the double act on stage, while conjuring the pair’s gags behind the curtain.
Flash forward years later, and Laurel and Hardy are fighting to keep the embers of their career burning while ignoring the bitterness that still lingers from when they briefly parted ways. The hope is that a restart in the U.K. will be enough to remind audiences they’re still around, as they tour the country and bring about a potential picture deal that could get them back to the way they were.
Standing by the side of both of them in their reclaim to fame is another pair that is just as entertaining, but surprisingly so. Taking as many laughs as the men they’re married to is Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy, and scene snatching Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel. Both the blunter, outspoken realists to their respective other halves, a film could be made about this pair alone, with Lucille trying to rein in Ida as she speaks her mind about her husband and his pal to anyone that’s in earshot. They’re the ones that, for better or worse, stand by this betrothed as they desperately try to bring laughter into the world, making the film as much about a quartet, than the double act that brings them together.
Much like the era and the characters that populate it, Stan & Ollie feels like a forgotten gem. That is to say, years from now on a Sunday afternoon, this will fill the same slot that you’d see The Sound of Music, The Great Escape, or Goodbye, Mr Chips inhabiting, and you’ll be so glad it did. There is a pureness and sincerity that runs through what is an impressively acted biopic that’ll warm your heart, mostly thanks to the films leading men, who aren’t just stepping into the shoes of two icons of the silver screen; they’re ensuring to move in time with one another, as all good partnerships do. Coogan and Reilly are the double act you never knew you wanted; fluid and funny and checking the exact requirements needed to explore the relationship and unquestionable devotion these two men had for one another. It’s something fuelled on laughter and love flooding through Stan & Ollie and it’ll hard not to feel either throughout.