The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - THE TAKE -


This sweet, sad film is about a lit­tle-known fi­nal chap­ter in the lives of com­edy leg­ends Stan Lau­rel and Oliver Hardy. In 1952, at a low point pro­fes­sion­ally, out of fash­ion in the United States, their re­la­tion­ship un­der stress and need­ing money, they took on a British tour, some­times to painfully sparse au­di­ences. Jon S Baird’s fea­ture ap­pears fic­tion­ally to con­flate the tour with the win­try mood of later UK tours when Stan and Ol­lie’s health and ca­reer wor­ries had es­ca­lated fur­ther. It has a per­sua­sive feel for this twi­light of the com­edy gods.

Steve Coogan and John C Reilly give great por­tray­als of Lau­rel and Hardy. These por­traits are de­tailed, closely ob­served labours of love, es­pe­cially as Coogan and Reilly had to nail both the screen per­sonae and also fab­ri­cate a sub­tler, more nat­u­ral­is­tic ac­count for the off-stage ver­sions. It is usual for crit­ics to talk about per­for­mances go­ing be­yond “mere” im­per­son­ation, as if im­per­son­ation at this level was easy, or had noth­ing to do with act­ing. But these are bril­liant im­per­son­ations, the kind that can only be achieved by ex­cep­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent ac­tors; the su­perb tech­nique of both is matched by their ob­vi­ous love for the orig­i­nals. My reser­va­tion is that there is some­thing oc­ca­sion­ally un­der­pow­ered and gen­teel in the film’s gen­tle nostal­gic melan­choly. IR­ISH TIMES There are few sig­nif­i­cant rev­e­la­tions. Though Stan & Ol­lie trades in much poignancy, it can­not be classed with those op­er­at­i­cally mis­er­able TV films about comics such as Tony Han­cock and Ken­neth Wil­liams. The com­edy is as gen­tle as the orig­i­nal films. The sen­ti­men­tal turns are worked ruth­lessly. Noth­ing much hap­pens that you don’t ex­pect to hap­pen.

Yet it works like a dream. The two lead roles could hardly be bet­ter cast. Nei­ther Coogan nor Reilly man­ages to put light years be­tween the per­form­ers’ on­screen per­sonae and the ac­tors’ real lives, but the lack of dis­tance serves to ham­mer home a truth about the dou­ble act. These were not stupid peo­ple. Hardy was not a pompous ass. Lau­rel was not a cow­ardly cry baby. But they teased lit­tle bits of them­selves into the ver­sions they pre­sented on screen.

Film his­to­ri­ans still ar­gue about how tol­er­ant each was of the other, but this warm film ul­ti­mately set­tles for a tur­bu­lent, stub­born af­fec­tion.

We are helped to that con­clu­sion by ex­cel­lent sup­port from the wives. Shirley Hen­der­son lets her wor­ries leak out in acidic re­marks as Lu­cille Hardy. Nina Arianda de­serves to achieve full break­out with her hi­lar­i­ous, scene-steal­ing turn as Ida Ki­taeva Lau­rel. Get this woman a ma­jor comic lead right away. VULTURE This is too sunny a pro­duc­tion to linger too long in the dark cor­ners; even Lau­rel’s al­co­holism is treated with a light touch when it comes up. Nev­er­the­less, it still finds its way to some kind of pro­fun­dity about the na­ture of long-term work­ing re­la­tion­ships, some­thing a lit­tle more com­pli­cated than the mere idea that the show must go on (which it must, and does – hence the sweat).

At one point their wives, Ida Lau­rel (Nina Arianda) and Lu­cille Hardy (Shirley Hen­der­son), join up with them, and I was de­lighted to re­alise that tucked away in this pro­duc­tion were two of the bet­ter de­pic­tions of pro­tag­o­nists’ wives I’ve seen at the movies in re­cent years. Arianda and Hen­der­son are both great, but they also have an in­ter­est­ing, some­what spiky, but ul­ti­mately sym­pa­thetic re­la­tion­ship with each other, which plays out in nu­mer­ous scenes while the two wait around for their fa­mous photo-pop­ping hus­bands.

Ac­cord­ingly, the film’s dark­est mo­ment ar­rives in the post­script sub­ti­tle, right be­fore the cred­its roll, when we learn how the worka­holic Lau­rel spent his fi­nal years. There’s a mo­ment dur­ing their big Lon­don al­ter­ca­tion when Ol­lie calls Stan, who was never not com­ing up with bits, “an empty man”. In the midst of all the slap­stick and PR gags and gen­eral good-na­tured pan­der­ing, it’s a shot that hurts.


Noth­ing is more well worn, among the­atri­cal tropes, than the pathos of the faded clown. If the fad­ing is to hit home, though, you need to re­mem­ber the glory that blazed be­fore, and what’s at stake in Stan & Ol­lie is not how loudly purists will ob­ject to its in­ac­cu­ra­cies but how many Lau­rel and Hardy fans, even of the im­pure kind, still ex­ist, and whether any new ones will arise as a re­sult. In ad­di­tion, Stan and Ol­lie were, by all ac­counts, de­cent folk, in­dus­tri­ous in their craft, cour­te­ous to their sup­port­ers, and es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing to chil­dren, who rel­ished the rev­e­la­tion that adults could be id­iots, too. So, where’s the mys­tery?

“You loved Lau­rel and Hardy, but you never loved me,” Ol­lie says to his part­ner, at one point, yet the com­plaint doesn’t re­ally ring true. If it means any­thing, it means sim­ply that both of them were pros. That is why their pair­ing, more fu­sion than dou­ble act, has en­dured as a by­word for to­geth­er­ness.

Even if you’ve never seen a minute of their movies, and even though the two men spend most of those movies squab­bling and get­ting on each other’s nerves, you sense that Stan and Ol­lie wouldn’t have it any other way. They swel­ter in the sum­mer of their dis­con­tent.


John C Reilly and Steve Coogan in Stan & Ol­lie.

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