Stan & Ollie is a charming, poignant biopic charting the autumn years of much-loved slapstick comedy legends Laurel and Hardy. It isn’t going to change the course of cinema, but it features fine performances, assured direction from Jon S Baird and a rich sense of time and place.
After a massively successful Hollywood career, Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C Reilly) meet up again in 1950s Britain, on a theatre tour that they hope will revive their flagging careers and lead to a new film. But will past resentments – specifically the fact that Ollie made a film without Stan that ended their screen partnership in 1937 – resurface to sour the reunion?
Jeff Pope’s amusing and compassionate screenplay centres not just around the bond between Stan and Ollie, but also their touching relationships with their devoted wives (and indeed, their wives relationship with one another). Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson are superb as Ida Kitaeva Laurel and Lucille Hardy respectively, and are every bit as important to the story as Coogan and Reilly.
This isn’t a film that features a lot of cinematic showing off, but the opening unbroken long take through a Hollywood backlot is worth mentioning. Everything the viewer needs to know exposition wise about Stan and Ollie is revealed during that conversation, although really it doesn’t matter if you are familiar with their back catalogue or not.
Ultimately this is an uplifting, unashamed celebration of an iconic cinematic duo, shot through with just the right dose of melancholy.