Based on the true story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a plumber from Cheltenham who had dreams of making it to the 1988 Winter Olympics, as Great Britain’s first-ever Olympic ski jumper.
They say that God loves a trier. If that’s true then Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards will be guaranteed a seat at Heaven’s top table when he eventually skids off his mortal coil. At the 1988 Winter Olympics, Edwards became the first person ever to represent Great Britain in ski jumping. That’s not to say he was actually any good at it. It’s no spoiler to say he was not victorious. Far from it. Yet, encapsulating the typical British approach to sport, Edwards charged on optimistically against all likelihood of victory and came home a hero, no medals weighing him down as he was hoisted on the nation’s collective shoulder.
Hugh Jackman makes a great foil for his co-star, playing about a seven on his scale of gruff irritation, if we’re taking Wolverine as a ten.
Dexter Fletcher has turned Edwards’ story into a comedy of soaring delights, a sports movie where it’s genuinely the taking part that counts. Through Wild Bill and Sunshine On Leith, Fletcher has shown himself a director who likes to hope for a happy ending, whatever gloom might block it from view, which makes him the ideal match for this material. There is an easier film that could have been made here, one that played Edwards’ failures for laughs. He is inherently easy to mock, watching from behind bottle-thick glasses as everyone in his field sails beyond his abilities. Yet Edwards is very rarely the butt of the joke, at least for the audience. He’s treated as a hero, and not because he might win (because he won’t), but because he achieves his dreams by his own hard work.
As a physically disabled child Edwards doesn’t accept that competing in the Olympics might be beyond him. When he finds a sport that might get him there he doesn’t accept that the UK team doesn’t want him. It’s all much more exciting than if he achieved his goals through natural talent. Evidently quite a lot of the story is fabricated, like the entirely fictional coach (Hugh Jackman) settling old scores with the sport, but there’s no damage done by the half-truths. The point is what Edwards did, which would seem to be largely accurate, not who helped him on the way. The inventions, by debut screenwriters Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, slot happily with the truth. Fletcher has a ball playing with the standards of the sports movie: training montages, bullying rivals, the lot.
Taron Egerton is charm personified as Eddie. He doesn’t caricature his eccentricities and keeps a glint of optimism even as the obstacles look insurmountable. Jackman makes a great foil, playing about a seven on his scale of gruff irritation, if we’re taking Wolverine as a ten. They sell their mission and their friendship so hard that by the time it comes to Eddie’s big moment, teetering at the top of a potential fatal drop, you’re willing him, internally screaming him, to victory even though you know there’s no chance. As a man he may never have made the podium, but as a movie Eddie The Eagle flies.
Eddie The Eagle turns a long-running joke of British sport into a crowd-pleasing story of inspiration. It’s a solid gold winner.