Stan and Ollie (PG)

Sep 11, 2019
Anson Paul

In 1953, Laurel and Hardy, the great comedy duo face an uncertain future as their golden Hollywood days are behind them. They embark on a tour of British variety halls to great success but health issues and old tensions threaten their friendship. A warm and touching story with excellent performances.


Stan and Ollie is a gentle, elegiac homage to Laurel and Hardy. It’s never perhaps, quite as funny as might have been expected but it tugs at the emotions throughout. With beautiful performances from Steve Coogan (as Stan Laurel) and John C Reilly (as Oliver Hardy) it is a film about friendship and loyalty as much as a comedy.
Director Jon S Baird and screenwriter Jeff Pope are exploring the strange process through which two comedians in their private lives and dealings with one another become well-nigh identical to the characters they played on screen. The film follows them on their tour in Britain in 1953, very late in their careers. As they travel from Newcastle to Glasgow they play half-empty halls and stay in seedy boarding houses and hotels. Their slick, double–dealing promoter Bernard Delfont is much more interested in boosting his new client Norman Wisdom than in helping old-timers like Laurel and Hardy.
A short flashback prelude, set in Hollywood in 1937, reminds the audience that only a few years years earlier Laurel and Hardy were the biggest comedy stars in the world. In a single shot, Baird shows the duo in their bowler hats and braces walking from dressing rooms to sound stages. Everyone loves them. In the course of this epic walk, Olli grabs a doughnut and places a bet while Stan is greeted with affection by passersby. 16 years later the comedians have come back to Britain to try to revive their careers by making another movie.

Reilly and Coogan brilliantly capture the physical mannerisms and verbal tics of their characters without resorting to caricature. The make-up department works wonders with Reilly’s double chin, while Coogan brilliantly re-creates the ‘little boy lost’ look which was always Laurel’s trade-mark on screen. They sing ‘Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia’ and dance with a comic grace and panache matching that of the real comedy legends.
Director Baird wrings every last drop of pathos from the material as he develops the theme of ‘the tears of the clowns’. He also shows a sympathetic respect for his characters, two of the best-loved figures in film history, here at their lowest ebb. But though they were no longer bankable as movie stars the magic between them never entirely dissipated, and this account of the comedians in their twilight years is both insightful and touching.
John Badcock


            Weighted vote 87.14%