Saturday morning pictures has gone the way of sweet cigarettes and plimsoles, consigned to a faux nostalgia that suggests they were better than what’s replaced them. The films shown were tired even then and hardly new. But in amongst the Perils of Pauline and black and white cartoons that to call them animated is like calling Mrs May’s dancing fluid, there were some gems: a Chaplin or Keaton perhaps or better still Laurel and Hardy.
Even so a biopic about a comeback tour of these two fine exponents of the slapstick, set in the 1950s wouldn’t normally have got me out from under some pet seeking a willing lap. But we’d seen a trailer, the pets were sulking for some reason and the Vet had ‘borrowed the house for a girlfriends’ get together that she has hosted most Christmases since they left school seven years ago. So when we noted Stan and Ollie was showing as a preview at out local, accompanied by the classic short film of them piano shifting up a never ending staircase, we thought, heck why not? Even if it’s rubbish…
The omens weren’t great, not really. This new cinema, for all its plushness and the fine amount of legroom lacks an essential feature, to whit ice cream. Furthermore, playing Stan Laurel was Steve Coogan. Now I, like many, were very taken with his portrayal of the investigative journalist opposite Dame Judy in Philomena but this was a comedy drama and I have about as many good things to say about his Alan Partridge as I do about child proof medicine bottles. Me, comedy and Coogan aren’t easy bedfellows.
So I took my seat with an inclination to expect my reaction at the end to be much the same as when I finish the washing up: vaguely satisfied it’s over.
How wrong could I be?
Ok, the original short, while clunky and simple and often telegraphed still induces laugh out loud moments. Made in 1937 it is easy to imagine its popularity then. So that, remastered and all, was going to be a success.
What about the main film?
Well, it got to me. In a good way. They main actors captured the characters with a compelling and satisfying mix of grit, pathos and love. The parts that reflect real life film were brilliant portrayals and the bits that are fictionalised had a depth and compelling narrative that I wasn’t expecting. And the director took us back to a black and white world of post war hope and austerity, with charlatans out to screw them over yet with staunch support from their wives and despite the heavy cloud of Ollie’s frail health they achieved what, at root they wanted – needed – which was to realise what got them going was their love of performing, and of each other.
I’ll watch out for more Coogan films. Just long as they don’t involve Alan Partridge….
PS. This was a preview; I don’t think this film is out until the new year. But if you get the chance…