Stan & Ollie review – melancholy twilight of comedy gods Laurel and Hardy
Brilliant impersonations by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly lift the muted charm of this biopic about their troubled music-hall tour of Britain
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. Recently we had Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, about Gloria Grahame’s theatrical engagements in Britain. Well, here were film stars dying night after night in Newcastle, Glasgow and Worthing. 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.