Anyone British who was around in the 80s will probably remember Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards, the unlikely figure who became an international sensation at the 1988 Winter Olympics, not due to the fact he was so good, but because he defied what you would normally think an Olympian would be when he took to the semi-suicidal slopes of the ski jump. Eddie The Eagle gives us a fictionalised take on that story.
Eddie (Taron Egerton) has long wanted to be an Olympian, but coming from a humble background he doesn’t have some of the advantages of others, and nor does the British Olympic Committee thinks he’s Olympic material – or at least that he’s not posh enough. His father (Keith Allen) thinks he should just give up and become a plasterer like him, but then Eddie has an idea – to become a ski jumper. Britain hasn’t sent a ski jumper to the Olympics since the 1920s, and under the rules in the 1980s, that means he should get an automatic place if he signs up to compete.
First though he needs to learn how to jump, so he heads to Germany, where he discovers the jumping isn’t the difficult bit, it’s the landing. He attempts to recruit Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former star jumper who’s now a broken down drunk, but Peary thinks the whole idea is insane. That’s not least because most jumpers start training when they’re young children, and Eddie is 22. However, once they start working together, Eddie has more problems to face than just landing, including the British Olympic Committee’s attempts to prevent him competing.
Eddie is never going to win a medal, but getting to the Winter Olympics at all would be a hell of an achievement.
While watching Eddie The Eagle, I couldn’t help think of the dreadful contestants during the audition phase of the likes of X-Factor, who are convinced they’re got what it takes but are actually far from the best. However, there’s one massive difference here. While The X-Factor contestants probably started practicing the day before, this film wants to underline Eddie’s dedication. He may not be the most talented – and he knows that – but it certainly isn’t like he just has to turn up at the Olympics. It’s a film about finding a way to live your dream no matter how unlikely they are and how many people tell you it’s ridiculous – but also that it won’t happen without passion and dedication.
There’s plenty of humour and from the first few seconds it’s clear this is going to be a movie designed to make you feel good – and at that it succeeds. Admittedly it does have a slightly old-fashioned feel. It’s almost like a 1990s underdog movie about a 1980s underdog, but made in 2016. Luckily though, that’s not a bad thing in this case. That fusion of different times is underlined by the fact the soundtrack features several new songs by Take That’s Gary Barlow (and others) but in a 1980s style and sung by classic 80s acts such as Marc Almond and Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley.
It could have been a problem that Taron Egerton is a ridiculously good looking young man, and part of what made Eddie special was that he, well, wasn’t exactly classically handsome. Eddie personified the everyman with a true have-a-go attitude. While it’s initially difficult not to be aware that you’re watching a hot guy in a wig and glasses, Egerton is talented enough to pull it off and you’re soon drawn into the story so far that you forget the artifice. Hugh Jackman also seems to be having fun in the role of the trainer, even though he doesn’t have to stretch his acting skills too far.
The film looks good on Blu-ray, giving an excellent feel for the thrill of the jumps and quite what an insane sport it is. There’s also a decent four-part documentary about the making of the movie. It features the real Eddie The Eagle, who’s still as infectiously enthusiastic now as he was in the 1988. He talks about his journey and how pleased he is with the movie, particularly as earlier attempts to bring his story to the screen tended to make him look like a buffoon. He certainly wasn’t that.
Overall Verdict: A fun, uplifting look at a very unlikely British sporting legend, who exemplified the idea that it’s not the winning that matters, it’s the taking part.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac