The Buzz on “Stan and Ollie”

For over a year and a half now now, my little backwater of the internet has been a-titter with the news that a new bio-pic about Laurel and Hardy was in the works starring John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan. For months, very little was known, except the BBC was making it, and that it was written by Jeff Pope and directed by Jon S. Baird (both TV guys). Pope, in addition to having co-authored the Oscar nominated screenplay for Philomena with Coogan, is “Head of Factual Drama” for ITV — WHERE CAN I APPLY FOR A JOB LIKE THAT? And so I assumed for a long time that the film would premiere on TV and perhaps be available via streaming. And I periodically kept checking for a release date. Then in August, the exciting news broke that it will premiere at the BFI Film Festival in London, October 21, which was then followed by an announcement a few days later that a US distributor had been acquired and it will begin showing in cinemas in January — both signalling that this is a good movie that ought to be in the running for Oscars.

Despite the fact most show biz bio-pics are pretty awful (see my series of posts that begins here), there has been great hope for this one, for a few reasons. One is that Coogan and Reilly are both pretty respected guys, conscientious and smart. No doubt they love the subjects as much as the fans; it’s likely they’d move heaven and earth to get it right. Secondly, the hard-won lesson of bio-pics, as I chronicle in my series, is that they’re generally terrible when you try to tell everything that happens to the subject from cradle to grave, as most of them do. The model should not be a biographical book but good biographical plays (the master of which form was Shakespeare) — you pick one eloquent section of a person’s life and tell that one story well. Stan and Ollie does this — it appears to concentrate on the team’s famous, grueling tour of the U.K., during their last years, after the two had stopped making movies. This is especially savvy because it is a period in the pair’s lives fans have often imagined, but by definition, there is no movie to watch! It’s like getting an additional Laurel and Hardy movie (in a roundabout way). And lastly, a trailer was released a few days ago, and the trailer is great. As readers may glean from my sound drubbing of The Greatest Showman, I’m not a pushover when it comes to such matters. But I have high expectations for this one.

We’ve given a lot of attention to Laurel and Hardy over the years on this blog. At one point I had over a hundred posts about the team here, but during a house cleaning a few months ago, I condensed a bit. At present there are over 40 Laurel and Hardy posts as well as ten on Stan Laurel’s solo work, and three on Hardy without Laurel (a biographical essay, plus posts on Zenobia and The Fighting Kentuckian). I am sprucing them up in preparation for the big release, and will be adding several new posts over the coming days. And naturally, I wrote about the team at length in my book Chain of Fools, as well as some about Laurel’s vaudeville career in my book No Applause. I hope you will take the opportunity to explore these jottings, for as I wrote here I think Laurel and Hardy are the greatest movie comedy team of all time. And I know I’m scarcely alone in that assessment. Can’t wait to see Stan and Ollie!

Check out the Stan and Ollie trailer here.