Props, runners and a busy bright energy filled Hollywood opens John S Baird’s 2018 biopic of Laurel and Hardy before we are plunged into a rain swept Britain in 1953.
The world’s most famous comedy duo are in the twilight of their careers as they embark on a tour of Britain and Ireland to pick up some cash and possibly relaunch their film careers. Ill health, booze and the expectations of their manager and their wives handicap the enterprise leading to bitter recriminations between them.
Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy give first class and believable portrayals of their respective characters. Jeff Pope’s script serves up a deal of pathos and a quite melancholy as the two struggle to come to terms with their reduced health and circumstances.
However it’s their wives who also spark off each other creating some frosty moments as they bicker over their spouses’ career prospects. At a reception Lucille Hardy (Lucy Henderson) accuses the rather grand Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda) of being the “epitome of Hollywood” to which Ida replies: “Don’t you pity me.”
Lucille was largely supportive of Hardy and wanted him to retire and take it easy, while Ida was clearly ambitious for Laurel to continue as she had her own Hollywood aspirations. Their conflicting loyalties inevitably led to tensions within the foursome as to where their futures’ lay.
Coogan is on top form as Stan. Playing the straight man suits him and he adds a strong streak of bitterness to his character which Hardy suggests was because he was never treated as well as Charlie Chaplin. John C Reilly’s make-up artist should be awarded the order of the face paint as he looked convincing as the corpulent gone to seed washed up actor.
A bitter-sweet story of their slow decline was given one or two false endings suggesting the credits were about to roll which in a way seemed appropriate since this was their last tour. Perhaps there were too many reflections of their past but they were like a cinematic comfort food. Seeing the duo play slapstick in lovingly recreated sketches is something you just can’t get enough of.
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