With his jutting jaw and giant specs, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards became a typically British sporting hero when he came last in the ski jump at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
I remember hating him, to be honest. I couldn’t stand our national obsession with noble failure, particularly in sport, where surely winning is everything?
Time, and this cheery new British film, have mellowed my opinion. Just as well, or I’d probably be banned from watching my son’s under-8s football team.
The film, directed by that loveable former child actor Dexter Fletcher (yes, from Press Gang, or The Rachel Papers, or Bugsy Malone, or Caravaggio depending on your age and your taste) looks to be as baggy and ramshackle as its hero but in fact it’s precision tooled to work on our affections, and it does so with gusto, energy and a goofy smile. Much like Eddie himself, I suppose.
It begins with the first of many extended montages, the young Eddie in his terraced house and back yard, inspired by a sports annual to try out many Olympic sports, from high jump to pole vault to javelin: cue broken windows, angry Dad (Keith Allen, forever shaking his fist and tutting his head) and an array of broken national health glasses all kept in a biscuit tin.
You can’t really fault this kind of thing – who doesn’t love a montage, particularly as we know it’s based on the Rocky movies and, well, Eddie’s never going to reach the heights of that classic American underdog.
Or maybe he is. Gamely, indeed impressively, played by Taron Egerton, Eddie sets his chin toward conquering the personal mountains of ski jumping, with its rather obvious metaphors for growth, set as it is on a series of hills from 15m to 40, 70 and finally the big one, the “goddess’’, the 90m hill.
We will watch Eddie fall hopelessly on all of these. But it’s his refusal to give up that wins our admiration. His is the kind of arc that works better in a movie than in life. In life, we probably laughed at him; the key shift in the movie is that we’re always laughing with him.
Eddie’s Mum is lovingly done by Jo Hartley (she’s great at loving Mums is Jo, having played Tommo’s Mum in the This is England series), always supporting him while Dad just wants him to be a plasterer.
Then there’s the patrician class war of the British Olympic Committee, embodied by Tim McInerey’s twitching chief who doesn’t want the working class kid with the beer bottle specs on his team of public school ski snobs.
And finally, there’s the hard drinking and smoking ski jumper Bronson Peary, played by the ever-charming Hugh Jackman, whom Eddie somehow persuades into becoming his coach. Cue another training montage to Hall & Oates’ You Make My Dreams Come True. Again, irresistible.
So by the time we’ve followed Eddie through his pratfalls, his serial rejections, his tumbles and his almost “on the spectrum’ inability to see how others see him – or care – he has totally won us over.
Fletcher proves himself a fine, instinctive director with a nicely fuzzy heart. The soundtrack is full of 80s pop – Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones, Frankie Goes to Hollywood – and the spirit carries the movie through, a bit Billy Elliot, a bit Cool Runnings, a bit Roy of the Rovers.
I can’t vouch for it as a masterpiece of the cinematic arts, but as a zero to hero underdog story, you can’t keep it down. Literally, Eddie The Eagle**** flies by, and I even had a tear in my eye at the end.
To hear my exclusive interview with Dexter Fletcher about Eddie The Eagle click here.