Stan and Ollie
Stars: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones, Danny Huston
After all the glitz and flash of the festive season, this undemanding but appealingly heartfelt biopic, which traces the twilight career of much-loved comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, feels like sinking into a warm bath of nostalgia. An ingeniously assembled flashback, set in 1937, the height of the duo’s powers, trails Laurel (Coogan) and Hardy (Reilly) in a single take, as they make their way through the labyrinthine Hollywood backlot to the set of their latest film. Their larky banter is cut off when dictatorial producer Hal Roach (a suitably commanding Huston) gives Laurel a dressing down for asking for more money. Jump to 1953 with the pair arriving in overcast Newcastle to begin their UK tour. Audiences to their shows are frustratingly small, so their shifty posh producer Bernard Delfont (Jones) persuades them to take part in a series of flashy publicity stunts. Interest begins to pick up, although the punishing schedule takes its toll on the duo’s relationship and Ollie’s health. Prior to a prestigious residency at London’s Lyceum theatre, they meet with their spouses, Stan’s formidable Russian wife Ida (Aranda), and the birdlike Mrs Hardy, Lucille, (Henderson). It’s unashamedly sentimental and broad, replete with telescoped events and exposition-laden dialogue. What makes it work are the uniformly great performances. Coogan and Reilly, in what is clearly a labour of love, uncannily inhabit their characters, with their recreation of the vintage routines as irresistible as they are accomplished. Perhaps surprisingly it’s Arianda who steals every scene she appears in, as Stan’s comically blunt and severe-seeming but protective wife.