Stan & Ollie (Britain, Canada, USA 2018)

This is a portrait of two icons of film comedy, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. However, most of the film deals with their later years, an eight month tour of Ireland and Britain in 1953, presenting performances on stage in music halls based on their famous routines. It was a success at the time and now offers a combination of celebration, humour and nostalgia. The film is screening this Wednesday [April 6th] at 9 p.m. on BBC 2. Since it is, in part, a BBC production it should be featured on the iPlayer for some time.

The film is well put together and has a fairly straightforward narrative. The stand out aspect are the performances as Stan / Steve Coogan and Ollie / John C. Reilly. For fans like myself it was as if watching the duo once again. The supporting cast is excellent, especially their two partners: Ida Laurel / Nina Arianda: Lucille Hardy / Shirley Henderson. In fact the actual tour, organised by impresario Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), is more or less played in reverse. At the opening the audiences are small and lukewarm; the reverse of actuality. The intention it would seem is to develop a rising narrative ending with a highly successful performance and a delighted audience.

It is not all humour. The tour ended when Oliver suffered a heart attack and following the tour they were unable to work again. So there is also a disconsolate note at the conclusion. The film also shows in flashback how Stan and Ollie ended their association with Hal Roach (Danny Huston).

But the centre of the film is the duo’s recreation of these famous acts. Pinning down the humour and charm of the original Laurel and Hardy is tricky. It is partly due to timing; and partly due to a series of fine directors and writers of comedy. And Stan Laurel in particular was the brains behind the stories and comedy. But there is also an indefinable quality when they work together. Their earlier solo films in the 1920s never have the wonderful moments that start with their partnership in 1927.

This title was shot with digital technologies so on an HD channel it should look pretty good. And the drama is in many ways suitable for the small screen. It was filmed in wide screen [2.35:1] and in colour; unlike the original films in academy ratio and black and white.

It is worth noting that Talking Pictures [on Freeview 82] have presented a several dozen of the Laurel and Hardy titles and these turn up again in their schedules. What would be good would be able to see the originals in 35mm prints; say Laughing Gravy (1930), The Music Box (1932) and Busy Bodies (1933) for starters. A project, perhaps, for the Picture House when it reopens.

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