I went from thinking I was watching a badly acted telemovie to forming a genuine attachment to the British dork at the centre of this recreation of events that led to Eddie the Eagle soaring at the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Inspired by truth, this is a feel-good story about Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton – Kingsman: The Secret Service). Eddie was an unlikely but courageous ski jumper who never stopped believing in himself, even as everyone else was counting him out. With the help of a rebellious and charismatic coach (Hugh Jackman), Eddie takes on the establishment and wins the hearts of sports fans around the world. This is about a loveable underdog with a never say die attitude.
Eddie’s story is inspirational. Although he was never athletically gifted, from an early age he dedicated his life to achieving one goal: namely to become an Olympian. He tried his hand at various sports and disciplines, before settling on downhill skiing. Having narrowly failed to make the British team at the Winter Olympics in 1984, he recalibrated and switched to ski jumping. But there were still several hurdles to overcome. Britain had never had a ski jumping representative at a Winter Olympics … and that is without taking into consideration the fact that Eddie had never even attempted a ski jump before. He was heavier than most ski jumpers, all of whom started at a very early age. He had no funding, very little training and his terrible eyesight meant that he had to attempt jumps while wearing glasses that would dangerously mist up mid-jump. He had to beg and borrow equipment, but his indefatigable spirit prevailed.
You could argue that the story is one that was begging to be made into a movie and yet it has taken the best part of 30 years to do so. Towards the end of 2014, Matthew Vaughn, director of Kingsman: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class and Layer Cake, sat down to watch a film with his children. That was Cool Runnings, the comedy about a Jamaican bobsled team that defied all the odds to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. His kids were loving the movie and Vaughn started thinking, “why aren’t they making movies like this anymore?” So, he answered his own question. He wanted to make an inspiring film that he could show his children. Perhaps spurred on by the remarkable coincidence that the Jamaican bobsledders and Eddie Edwards competed at the same Olympics, Vaughn turned his thoughts towards The Eagle.
Fifteen years or so earlier, Vaughn and his then directing partner, Guy Ritchie, had been sent an Eddie The Eagle screenplay with a view to turning it into a movie. That deal hadn’t worked out, but something about it still resonated with him. He thought it was charming and clearly worth making. Loads of people had bought it since, but nothing had happened, so Vaughn tracked down the script and three months later began filming. Vaughn turned to an old friend, Dexter Fletcher, who had starred in the first movie Vaughn produced, namely Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to helm this one.
Jackman plays Bronson Peary, a hard drinking, chain-smoking American and former ski jumper who takes Eddie, very reluctantly at first, under his wing. Peary is a fictional character who is a damaged, cynical soul. He was kicked out of the U.S. Winter Olympics’ team at the peak of his powers. His friendship with Eddie inadvertently sets in train a long-overdue healing process.
I felt there was too much slapstick comedy about much of the first half of the movie in particular. It was as if the filmmakers were trying too hard to tickle the funny bone and the characters were all but single dimensional caricatures. Also, there are only so many times you can slide down a 15 or 40 or 70 metre drop, then bomb out and hurt yourself, before that wears thin. I was starting to tire of the shtick that I thought was being served up, wondering how there was ever going to be enough here to sustain my interest when a strange thing happened.
Like Eddie grew on Peary (there is a line Peary uses about Eddie being like gum sticking to his shoe), so the unlikely story turned me around. Yes, I found myself all but cheering for the underdog. And, dare I acknowledge it, before the credits, I even managed to shed a tear or two and felt I walked out the cinema a winner. Eddie the Eagle became good old-fashioned family entertainment.
Rated M, it scores a 6½ to 7 out of 10.
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken
Release Date: 21 April, 2016
Rating: PG – Sexual references, mild themes and coarse language
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television