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Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards: the biopic following the darling of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics premieres in Finland on Friday. Cinematic cliches aside, it’s hard to not be charmed by this feel-good film containing a spectrum of emotion, and a deeper questioning of the moral underpinnings of the Modern Olympic Games, as well as the bureaucracy surrounding top-level sporting competitions. This is particularly drawn into focus with a quote from Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics. “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part, the essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well.” This adaptation of Edward’s story is exactly that: a tribute to fearlessness, competitive spirit, drive, and a disregard for results as the main point of competition.
The charisma and genuinely relatable nature of Michael Edwards are unquestionably the jewels of this production, which was evident during his appearance at the red-carpet event at Tennispelatsi yesterday. Edwards acknowledged the film as an accurate portrayal. “Although some parts of my story are focused on more than others for cinematic effect, it’s 95 per cent true. It’s a wonderful film, and Egerton looks just like me when I was in my twenties and did a great job . . . the movie made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me relive all those fabulous moments. I hope you enjoy this film as much as I did.” Hearing Edwards speak in person, it became obvious why he was so revered in his time, and why that legacy has endured.
Michael Edwards’ story of dedication started with his incessant determination to become an Olympian. Although skilled, Edwards narrowly failed to make the British team at the 1984 Winter Olympics as a downhill skier. Given the less competitive British context of ski jumping (Britain had never had a ski-jumping representative), he realigned himself and began training with many factors against him: heavier than most ski jumpers, a comparatively old age to start the discipline, little funding, little training, and poor eyesight which led to foggy glasses mid-jump. Regardless, his sheer perseverance and fearlessness gained him a place in the 1988 British Winter Olympics team, challenging the bureaucracy which had rejected him only four years prior.
For someone like myself who was born in the same year as Edwards’ Olympic debut, it’s a fresh and invigorating story. For others, it may be an exciting return to the challenge that Edwards presented, or simply more media attention for the saturated figure that didn’t deserve it in the first place. The reappraisal and continuation of his story occurring twenty-eight years after the event indicate a legacy that was eagerly waiting to be brought to new generations. Director Matthew Vaughn held exactly that vision: while watching Cool Runnings (1993) with his children he mused, “Why does nobody make movies like this anymore?” He aimed to make a film that you could watch and come out feeling inspired, and a film he could show his kids. He handed the position of director to Dexter Fletcher, who had more emotional distance from The Eagle as he was only in his twenties at the time of the 1988 Winter Olympics.
[alert type=white ]For someone like myself who was born in the same year as Edwards’ Olympic debut, it’s a fresh and invigorating story. For others, it may be an exciting return to the challenge that Edwards presented, or simply more media attention for the saturated figure that didn’t deserve it in the first place. [/alert]
Edwards is played convincingly by Taron Egerton, a young Welsh newcomer, who didn’t want to portray him as a comedy skit. “I had absolutely no interesting in sending Eddie up . . . he can be funny, he can have mishaps, but he needs heart and soul to be real and believable.” Vaughn wished to “dial up the emotion” in order to stray from a comical figure. Rather, they wanted him to become inspirational and heroic, full of determination, lacking fear, and drawing on a humility that allowed his message to resonate. Although it’s sometimes easy to question the overt naivety and fumbling of Edwards portrayed by Egerton, as well as the ostracism he faced, it adds to the feel of the film which aims to suit all audiences. Regardless, Egerton could have been toned down just a little to create an even more believable and realistic figure. In spite of this, it’s hard to criticise the emotion and passion that Egerton brings to the character, and if Edwards endorses it, it fills the most important criterion.
Egerton’s role is facilitated by Hugh Jackman, taking the fictional role of Bronson Peary, former American ski jumping champion. Although Edward’s story is more gruelling than shown in the film (he would largely train himself and go through a string of short-lived coaches), the role was created in order to have a consistent character to bounce off. Regardless of its fiction, it serves the purpose as Egerton and Jackman create a lovable yet sometimes ostentatious rapport that serves as the main vehicle for the film. Their chemistry and dynamic certainly carry the story well and serve a purpose, with both actors performing admirably.
Cinematically, the film utilises new techniques to bring the thrill and danger of ski jumping to the big screen. “There are thirteen or more jumps in the film, and it’s a repetitive action . . . we had to find new ways to do that. As soon as you get on a screen, everything becomes flat, and the height of something is reduced by 50 percent, at least,” notes Fletcher. Helmet cams allowed a better understanding of the feeling of speed as the skier jumps, and in addition judicious use of CGI. Complex platforms in and around the 70 and 90-metre jump allowed camera sequences that imitated the swoop and fly effect of the leap. As Fletcher remarks, “We found ways of coming up with fun angles, and ways to communicate how high and dangerous this is.” Certainly, the film communicates this well, allowing a better appreciation of the daredevil nature of the discipline which can send chills down your spine.
Eddie the Eagle is an easy film to recommend. The slightly over-the-top nature of the story and acting, while not a deal-breaker, allows the film to be accessed by all ages. It’s this generation’s ‘Cool Runnings’, and a story that can only serve to inspire audiences, while promoting good sportsmanship, humility, and dogged determination to achieve one’s goals. What’s not to like?
Eddie the Eagle premieres on April 1st.
For a more detailed account Michael Edwards’ story, we suggest this in-depth piece: