Eddie the Eagle, the London Marathon and Celebrating the Have A Go Spirit

  

Two days ago I went to support a friend running in the London Marathon and then yesterday, on a whim, I went to see Eddie the Eagle. As it turns out, doing these two things on consecutive days felt entirely appropriate as I think the same sentiment fuels both.

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For the vast majority of people running, the London Marathon is not about winning. For many it isn’t even about finishing in a particular time, it is just about finishing. This, of course, is understandable because to complete the full course is an impressive achievement no matter how long it takes. Yes, there might be other people who can do it faster or more often but it doesn’t matter. Most people aren’t worried about rankings, they just want the personal challenge and to be able to say that they were there and they did it. It isn’t about winning, not even slightly, it’s totally about taking part. This desire to have a go without hope of anything but personal victory is an endearing characteristic and while I don’t know if it is a particularly British thing I’d like to think so. Certainly the London Marathon is one of the world’s biggest, with only New York and Chicago exceeding it, which offers some support for my theory. It’s not that we settle for being a little bit rubbish, it’s that we recognise what an achievement it is to be able to play the game at all. 

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The parallels with this and the story of Olympic ski jumper Eddie Edwards are clear. In reality Edwards only narrowly missed qualifying for the ’84 Winter Games as a downhill skier. Shortly after which he moved to the US and realised he had a better chance of going to the next games if he switched events. This part of Edwards’ history is portrayed with huge dramatic licence but from here the essence of the story is accurate. Edwards’ was self funded, he was significantly far sighted, he did only just get into the Calgary games and he wasn’t really able to compete at that level. He became an Olympian though, he was there and that is impressive enough. The UK celebrated this at the time and the movie celebrates it now.

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The film wheels out most of the sports movie cliches. There is the doubting father, the bullying team mates, the oppressive officials, the early failure, the throwing in of the towel and the previously disgraced coach. The film also sees the hero overcoming adversity and beating the odds but only up to a point; the guy doesn’t end up getting the gold medal as he probably would if this were total fiction. Eddie the Eagle is a very conventional movie but consciously so and credit should go to director Dexter Fletcher for making it such a winning film even though it is more than a little corny. In less skilled hands this could easily have been awful but it isn’t awful, it’s wonderful. I bought in to Eddie’s adventures before the opening credits and I stayed with it 100% all the way through. I loved the film and by the end I was genuinely welling up. 

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The success of the film is not just down to the director though; Taron Egerton is really good in the title role. His part here could not be further away from the good looking, streetwise, kick ass kid he played in Kingsman and he shows a versatility that could lead to a varied career. In Egerton’s hands Eddie may be a bit of a caricature but at no point is he portrayed as an idiot. This is not Frank Spencer on skis. He’s a little naive, he’s blindly optimistic and he’s undoubtedly foolhardy but he is not stupid. It is clear that he could not do what he does without significant courage and skill and he is a genuine inspiration. 

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In support, Huge Jackman is also good as Edwards’ reluctant coach although it’s not really a stretch for him; grouchy not being something the actor struggles with. All of Jackman’s roles can be measured by where they sit on the 1-10 Oklahoma to X-Men scale, so named after the two disparate productions he worked on in 1999. Jackman first become known outside of Australia playing the squeaky clean and jovial Curly in a West End revival of Rodger and Hammerstein’s classic musical then immediately found international fame as the violent and sardonic Wolverine. Since that point everything he has done has sat somewhere between these two performances and this film is about a 6, a little mean but not so far away from kind hearted. The character is entirely fictional and if I were Edwards’ real coach I’d feel a bit put out but I’m not so I went with it.

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Cheesy it may be then but Eddie the Eagle is an infectiously feel-good film with a ‘have a go’ spirit that feels very British. The film makers have kept just enough of the truth to make the movie work and not an ounce more but I enjoyed it immensely. 

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Now let’s have a movie about those guys that run the marathon dressed as rhinos.

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The Ripley Factor:
Eddie the Eagle is a pretty male centric film but it does have a handful of key female roles. German actor Iris Berben plays a cougarish older woman who gives the hero a job because she likes the look of him. Not the most progressive role but she moves the plot on and is a key player in the made up part of the story. There is also a female press agent that contributes to events but it is Eddie’s mum that comes out best. Played by Jo Hartley, Mrs E is an absolute delight. There is no doubt that her unconditional love and support allowed her son to fly and the way she plays off against Keith Allen as dad raises the biggest laughs. I’ve not been this moved by a fictional parent wanting what’s best for their child since Mr Bennet told Lizzie not to marry Mr Collins.

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Is This One For the Kids?
Eddie the Eagle is rated PG and would be totally suitable for children but for a scene in which Hugh Jackman compares a controlled ski jump to having sex with Bo Derek. The whole thing basically ends up with Jackman faking an orgasm. It is a little bit discomforting, I don’t think I’ll have what he’s having.

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