A feel-good, crowd-pleasing triumph that deserves to find the widest possible audience, this terrific underdog tale based on the astonishing sporting exploits of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards has that touch of The Full Monty/Billy Elliot Brit-crafted magic, with dashes of Ealing comedy thrown in.
Combined with a star-making turn from Taron Egerton, as the Cheltenham plasterer’s son, and adroit direction by Dexter Fletcher, the undeniable power and emotional richness of the entire endeavour makes for a captivating success.
Many will remember the tabloid/talkshow sensation and naive romantic that Eddie Edwards turned out to be back in 1988 when he became an accidental ski-jumping record holder at the Calgary Winter Olympics. Originally he narrowly missed out on being part of the GB downhill skiing event at the 1984 Games and realised, to improve his chances of qualifying for Calgary, he’d have to change to a sport where there was no other competition.
That was ski-jumping – even though he was long-sighted and couldn’t really see what he was doing on the snow.
Without any funding, and further handicapped by his weight, he represented Great Britain at the 1987 World Championships and got ranked 55th in the world. This performance qualified him as the sole British Calgary applicant where he set the new record and his dogged determination endeared him to global sports fans. The more eccentrically he performed, the more popular he became, much to the bafflement of fellow Team GB members and an exasperated British sporting establishment who quickly changed the rules to stop others following Eddie’s lead.
All those bases are warm-heartedly covered in Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton’s super script that makes much of Eddie’s true story as a wish-fulfilment fantasy and a realistic human drama with serious undertones. You root for the affectionately drawn Eddie as he experiences the giddiness of victory without forgetting the misplaced resolve that got him there.
With Egerton’s incredible lead performance – the signature pout, wide-eyed personality, sweet naivety and positive attitude – Eddie snaps into sharp focus in the most beguiling way. The Kingsman star couldn’t be any better as the anchor of this absorbing and moving tour-de-force and he almost single-handedly makes this appealing biopic a disarming stunner.
But let’s hear it, too, for Hugh Jackman who provides considerable winning backup as the alcoholic fallen champion Bronson Peary, Eddie’s fictional coach. Then there’s Keith Allen and Jo Hartley scoring more points as Eddie’s initially worried, gradually supportive parents – and Christopher Walken, in a wonderfully strange cameo.
Sometime actor Dexter Fletcher proved he’s an immensely gifted director with his debut feature Wild Bill and the fun “MacMama Mia” musical Sunshine on Leith. Here, he comes of age as his endearing approach to the sterling material enhances the experience. He works with deft assurance, offering energetically striking visuals and razor-sharp observations.
Fletcher realises it’s not just a movie about the proverbial “little guy”, it’s about following your heart over all obstacles. That’s what makes this deceptively simple celebration of innocence such a big-hearted joy. You’ll be punching the air during the finale, guaranteed.
Eddie the Eagle is released in cinemas on Easter Monday 28th March