At the local pub quiz night you might smile smugly to yourself, giving your team a complacent nod as the quizmaster asks, ‘Who came last in the 1988 Olympic ski jump event?’ Eddie the Eagle, of course. This is likely the extent of your Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards knowledge. The legacy of a man who was an Olympian – albeit only just – has been reduced to a punch line, a statistic, a trivia answer.
Director Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie The Eagle shrewdly fleshes out the story of this hitherto one-dimensional, mythical man. With the real Eddie admitting that only around 5% of the film’s storyline is true, Fletcher has chosen to concentrate less on what happened and more on the concept of what made the Eagle an inspiration. This is not a tale of failure or defeat, but one of unyielding determination in the face of unremitting obstacles.
Introduced to Eddie as a child, we find him attempting to win a medal in holding one’s breath under bathwater. The bespectacled boy is determined to be good at something. Fast forward a decade or so and he’s narrowly missed out on a place in the British downhill ski team. Unlike his frail legs and thick glasses, his spirit and resolve are unbreakable. Realising qualifying for the British ski jumping team would be significantly easier due to the lack of any fellow countrymen to compete against, he sets his sights on the 1988 Calgary Winter Games. Here the story of the ultimate underdog begins.
At first, Taron Egerton’s Eddie seems like an eccentric caricature. He has a pronounced overbite, constantly scrunches his nose to push his glasses back up, and could do with a good haircut. It feels as though Fletcher has taken the easy route of having the audience laugh at the young lad’s ongoing misfortune. However, so very endearing is Egerton’s portrayal of the protagonist that his quirky traits quickly become the norm. The obstacles in his way – the stuffy tweed-and-toupée-wearing British Olympic Committee and the svelte, lycra-clad Norwegian ski jumpers – are what become comic caricatures.
Hugh Jackman enters as the brash American to Egerton’s bumbling Brit. As Eddie’s reluctant coach he struts around Germany’s ski slopes with his shirt sleeves rolled up, presumably kept warm by an ever-present alcohol blanket. Jackman luxuriates in this cookie-cutter role, perfectly happy to play up to being the token melodramatic sex symbol. His animalistic, feral face at times leaves the audience questioning when in his illustrious past Wolverine learnt how to ski.
There are moments when Jackman’s lengthy monologues feel a little too laboured, his histrionic Americanisms out of place in what is a very British film. Egerton’s sublime comic timing happily brings us crashing back down to Earth every time. This is something Egerton and his character are very used to – crashing, smashing, and plummeting to the ground from a great height. Eddie the Eagle is a spectacularly terrible ski jumper. He spends the entire 106 minutes risking life and limb in pursuit of greatness.
Despite this, the style and sound of the film remain unremittingly, upliftingly upbeat. ‘80s primary colours, dorky clothes, and kitsch décor keep the audience buoyant even as Eddie’s legs are splayed in the snow at decidedly unnatural angles. The tongue-in-cheek and completely unapologetic use of ‘You Make My Dreams Come True’ and ‘Jump’ again ensure that the film feels cosy and British, even against the unfamiliar German mountains.
Eddie the Eagle, both the person and the film, are one and the same: relentlessly enthusiastic, with a can-do attitude that will win over the British public whether you want them to or not.
Words by Anouszka Tate