Eddie the Eagle may well be the ‘feel good’ movie of the year. It abounds with sporting cliches and improbable (but actual) achievements. There is an abundance of humour and at times heart-stopping danger. And then there is Eddie himself; a likeable, dorky young man hell bent on representing Great Britain at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988. With an overshot jaw, thick glasses, shaggy ginger hair and a most unathletic physique, Eddie is almost a caricature of the sporting failure. But what he lacks in experience or appearance is more than compensated by profound self-belief and courage.
Eddie the Eagle is based upon the true exploits of Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards, an apprentice plasterer from Cheltenham, England. From an early age, Eddie’s ambition was to become an Olympian. For reasons that would obviously detract from the plot line of Eddie as a naive fool, there was some foundation to his Olympic ambitions. Not covered within the film was the emerging success he enjoyed as a downhill racer before funding constraints forced him to quit the sport. When we meet Eddie within the film he has decided his entry into Olympic glory will be via ski jumping, perhaps the most dangerous of all Olympic sports. Where top exponents of the sport had spent a lifetime learning their craft, Eddie had less than one year to develop the necessary skills. His prospects of success were considered nil and prospects of death or serious injury very high.
Learning how to compete and stay alive was only one of the many challenges Eddie faced. The British Winter Olympic selection committee proved to be a sanctuary for the elite and privileged. Eddie did not meet their benchmarks. Wrong schools, wrong connections, wrong breeding. Being an athlete committed to participating for his country was simply not enough. The committee set minimum performance benchmarks which Eddie met only to be confounded when the benchmarks were raised once more, purely to exclude him from the team. Shameless, blatant prejudice finally resulted in Eddie being rejected as a team member and forced to find other ways to compete at Calgary.
Long before Eddie finally makes it to Calgary we have come to admire his grit and character evident through his sheer tenacity to succeed, his undoubted courage and surprisingly his skill at ski jumping. Eddie is the underdog. Unwanted by the establishment, hopelessly outclassed by the Finns in particular but determined to prove to himself and others that he can succeed. It is impossible not to like Eddie and equally easy to dislike all who stand in his way.
Eddie is played most capably by Taron Egerton. The counterpoint to Eddie is an initially reluctant coach, Bronson Peary played by Hugh Jackman. Bronson was a promising American ski jumper who fell from favour for his lack of commitment and disrespectful views of teammates and administrators. Bronson is an alcoholic and loathe to assist Eddie in what he believes is a deluded quest. Eddie’s indefatigable determination proves to be the catalyst required to advance Eddie’s ambition and to bring Bronson’s life back on track. Some of the best humour is found in the interplay between the reluctant, laconic Bronson and the eager determination of Eddie.
As the cliches of spent, existing and emerging sporting heroes unfold, we follow Eddie through to the terrifying ninety metre high ski jump. The knowledge that Eddie is a raw novice amid seasoned professionals is worked hard. Taunts fly, nerves become frayed, distraught parents wait with growing apprehension. Then Eddie flies and flies and flies . . . and survives. His jump is over forty metres less than the flying Finn. He is positioned last in the eyes of the judges but first in the eyes of the world. Eddie lives up to his name, ecstatically rousing the cheering crowd with a chicken wing flapping performance that is played to television audiences around the world. Eddie has realised his Olympic dream and repudiated his doubters.
Almost thirty years later, the significance of Eddie’s achievement at the 1988 Winter Olympics still burns brightly.
Director: Dexter Fletcher. Script: Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton. Duration: 1hr. 45 mins.
Available on DVD June 14 2016