Eddie the Eagle (2016)

69 Eddie the Eagle

Rags-to-riches is the most overdone theme in cinema yet audiences love it as comfort food for the soul. It works particularly well in ‘heart-warming’ and ‘feel-good’ sporting bio-pics based on the ‘hare and tortoise’ tale where the slow plodder eventually wins. Eddie the Eagle (2016) is the plodding tortoise whose obstacles include childhood disability, being gawky and born into a working family at the lower end of the snotty-nosed British class system. But his soul yearns for Olympia, not a medal or glory, just the thrill of competing.

Inspired by the sight of skiers flying like birds, Eddie (Taron Egerton) decides to become Britain’s first-ever entrant in the notoriously dangerous sport of Olympic ski jumping. Undeterred by the fact that top jumpers start at five years old and are built like quilled arrows while Eddie trained for a year and looks like a British meat pie, Eddie puts heart and soul into his dream. He meets heavy-drinking but smart former top jumper Bronson (Hugh Jackman) who teaches Eddie how to fly and more importantly how to land. Of course its not only Eddie’s lack of talent that must be overcome as the pompous British Olympic Committee has no interest in helping a goofy working-class boy to join its proper-speaking elite ranks. To the Committee’s chagrin, the crowds at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics saw the tortoise jump (not very far) and loved him for trying. He became a media sensation and a National Hero. Both the true story and this film come closer to showing the beauty of dreams than podiums full of medal-winning super-athletes can ever do.

Egerton’s performance is both the charm and weak point of the film. Gawky single-mindedness is endearing but when it’s the only persona on view feels like a mask that hides someone unknown. Jackman is always drinking or smoking while brooding over his failed ambitions and similarly deprives the role of nuance. But such quibbles are minor in the big picture. The camerawork and special effects are undoubtedly the highpoint of the film (forgive the pun) and the slow-motion freeze-frames in Eddie’s final jump are heart-stoppingly beautiful. Never has winning been less important and never has trying been so heroic. The crowd leaving my cinema all had smiles on their faces and some had tears in their eyes. This is a wonderfully filmed ‘true story’ about the ennobling human values of perseverance and belief in one’s self.

3 half stars

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Stars: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Tom Costello