08 January 2019 (released)
09 January 2019
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, or Babe as his friends affectionately called him, are two of the most iconic figures from the golden age of Hollywood.
And, like all performing greats who have passed, they live on as legends – which is a far cry from how their later years really played out.
Opening on a Hollywood movie lot during the filming of one of their last films under the Hal Roach banner, the mega producer who made plenty of money off the beloved double act but gave them very little freedom, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C. Reilly) are shown doing what they do best – but trouble is brewing for their lucrative partnership.
Fast forward 16 years, it’s 1953 and a more weathered Laurel and a much fatter Hardy check into a dingy hotel in rainy Newcastle to begin a U.K. tour.
Embarking on a rather tragic trek around Britain, the two stars, once giants of the silver screen, play to half empty audiences in second-rate theatres, encouraged from the wings by tour mastermind Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones). To help dismal ticket sales, savvy Delfont convinces the pair to take part in a number of cheap PR stunts, which sure enough gets more bums on seats and in turn reignites Laurel and Hardy’s passion for making the public laugh.
The pair are also spurred on by the promise of a film producer named Miffet, who’s due to catch the show during its London run, funding a comeback film for the double act.
As they tour up and down and side to side, the old friends work hard on the script for the Robin Hood-based feature, with Stan sprinkling the script with some of the old Laurel and Hardy magic while his large friend is always on hand to let out an appreciative chuckle at the new jokes.
Patience starts to wear thin, though, when they arrive in London for a two-week residency at the prestigious Lyceum Theatre, and tensions are frayed further with the arrival of their wives, Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arianda) and Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson). Can the old friends weather past resentments, an uncertain film future and Babe’s declining health, or will their partnership crumble for the second time in their careers?
Director Jon S. Baird perfectly captures a bygone era; not just the two faded faces, but a moment in time - simple, charming and gentle - that has long since passed.
Both leads deliver powerhouse performances; Coogan as the comedy brains and Reilly, who is unrecognisable in Mark Coulier’s spectacular prosthetics, as the affable foil.
Special mention for the beautiful ending which is a truly touching tribute to the movie icons.
This film serves as the swan song the real Laurel and Hardy sadly never managed, and ensures their memory lives on for a whole new generation.