Eddie The Eagle: a live action family film that deserves a lot more love

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To find a live action family film that all generations can watch and get something out of is increasingly rare – and few recently have managed it better than Eddie The Eagle.

Even when cinemas were open, it was something of a battle to find a live action movie that a full family audience could enjoy. Sure, Marvel films, Star Wars and their ilk are enjoyed by youngsters and adults alike, but they’re 12A movies with some tough moments in them. To find a live action movie with a PG certificate, getting a big wide release? That’s become a rarity.

I wonder if that’s one of the reasons why the recent Johnny English film proved successful at the box office, and I note as I write this that a live action take on Pinocchio is currently playing, and is rated PG. But I’m noting it because it feels such an exception to the rule. I think it’s a skill and a half to come up with a live action movie that’s genuinely as suitably for someone who’s six as someone who’s 86. And it’s one of many reasons why I think we should give Dexter Fletcher’s superb Eddie The Eagle a lot more love.

Fletcher, by the time he came to make the film, had already made one really charming PG-certificate movie, in the shape of the excellent Sunshine On Leith. When he came to Eddie The Eagle though, the film had threatened to be a much less charming feature than it ultimately become. It’s pretty well known that Steve Coogan’s production company, Baby Cow, had been noodling with the project, and screenplays had been written.

At that stage, the director of the wonderful Cruise Of The Gods, Declan Lowney, was circling the film as director. He would ultimately go on to helm Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa with Coogan instead. Rupert Grint had been earmarked as a possible candidate to play the title role, and the project seemed to have some traction.

But it was the treatment of the title character that marked a core difference between this earlier approach to the story, that ultimately never made it to the screen.

Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards came to fame in real life at the 1988 Winter Olympics, capturing the news cycle as he won the hearts of many in spite of finishing last in the ski jumping event. The presentation of his story presents, instantly, a tonal problem. Edwards as a ski jumper was a lot better than me, and a lot worse than the people he was competing against. Do you ridicule him, and make the film a laughing at him comedy? That was reportedly the suggestion of those original drafts, and it feels a long way from the sweetness of the story we ultimately got.

The Baby Cow-driven version of the project ultimately went into development hell, and the film was dropped. In then came the creative forces of producer Matthew Vaughn, writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, and director Fletcher. What they fashioned between them was a take on the tale that celebrated Edwards. That captured the story of someone following an unlikely dream, butting against a world that sneers, that criticises, and looks to punch down. A glass half full man in a glass half empty world.

The film thus pressed ahead, and a core piece of casting fell into place. Taron Egerton had got his break in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2014, and his name bubbled up to the top for Eddie. I’m thankful it did. He’s quite, quite brilliant here. There’s something so charming and loveable about the blind optimism and quiet determination of his take on Edwards. Egerton is a gifted comedy actor too, but it’s the pitching of the performance here that’s really something. They don’t tend to give out awards for work such as his here, but I simply can’t think of too many other people who could have managed what he achieves.

It’s pretty well known that the role Hugh Jackman plays in the film is a fictional one, but I’ve not the slightest problem with that. This isn’t a biopic, after all. I think what the screenwriters found was in the creation of Jackman’s Bronson Peary a foil for Egerton. There’s an A story and a B story going on, and it goes to the sheer generosity of Jackman as a movie star actor that he’s willing to take on such a part. It might be a classical sporting movie convention to have the grizzled, bitter old pro and the optimistic new upstart, but it’s a convention for a reason. It draws out character, and really helps give us something to root for.

Fletcher’s direction deserves particular credit. Notwithstanding the fact that he made the film on a limited budget yet doesn’t skimp on the ski jumping sequences, it’s his light comedy touch that’s perfect for the film. I think the joy of Fletcher’s movies – Wild Bill, Sunshine On Leith and Rocketman included as well – is his clear interest in humanity. That he cares for his characters, that he gives them space, that he has no interest or shrift in ridiculing them. He puts across three dimensional human beings, and on the quiet, he’s become one of the Britain’s best mainstream feature directors. He’s clearly adept at working with actors, too (unsurprising perhaps, given his own background).

Then there’s the ending.

I don’t want to go into detail because the intention is this is a spoiler-light piece that hopefully encourages more people to seek the film out. I will thus keep it vague and say this: there’s a moment involving a jumper that makes me well up, that gives me goosebumps, and that makes me so, so happy each and every time I see it. I’ve watched this film a lot of times, and I’ve found it always, always delivers and puts a huge grin on my face. There’s a lot of snootiness towards feelgood movies sometimes. I’ve never understood that: if a film can make me feel good, I’ll all for it.

I will add this, too. Those last moments I’d suggest are edging into the same class as Paddington 2. And that’s not a film whose name I’d ever invoke lightly.

It’s becoming harder and harder to pick a movie people haven’t seen for a family movie night I’ve found. The vast majority of releases coming out of studios for a broad audience are 12A, and I’m rarely comfortably showing them to my own kids unless I’ve checked the movie in question out first.

It’s one of the many things that makes Eddie The Eagle stand out so much. It matters not whether you have kids or not, whether you’re watching it alone or in a crowd, or whether you’re familiar with the man it’s based on or wouldn’t know him from whoever Adam is. It’s a charming, delightful, uplifting and quite wonderful movie. It invites everyone in, doesn’t have a cynical bone in its body, and deserves a much, much wider audience than it got.

Do check it out. And then treat yourself to the excellent score from Matthew Margeson as well. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Hear our podcast special with Dexter Fletcher here:


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