Steve Coogan

Stan & Ollie

18/12/18

I’m no Laurel and Hardy aficionado, but of course I know who they were and the nature of their work; I haven’t spent my life under a stone! And I’m a fan of clowning, generally, and a sucker for a biopic. So, off I go to the local multiplex, to catch a preview screening of this much-talked-about movie.

It’s a gentle film, lovingly created, with two stellar performances at its heart. John C Reilly (Hardy) and Steve Coogan (Laurel) are note-perfect in their roles, embodying their real-life counterparts with obvious relish.

This is a bittersweet chronicle, detailing the latter years of the duo’s partnership. Their glory days behind them, they leave Hollywood to embark on a tour of Britain, hopeful that this will entice an eminent producer to get behind their latest movie idea: a comic retelling of Robin Hood. But audience figures are low, even in small, regional theatres, and the pair are left to face the fact that their careers are largely history.

It’s beautifully played, and the pathos is at times unbearable, but I can’t help feeling it’s all a little… subdued. I’d like everything dialled up a notch, and more focus on the emotional consequences of what happens to the pair. The script (by Jeff Pope) is terribly restrained; I’d prefer it if the leash were loosened just a tad.

Still, this is eminently watchable, with some cracking moments to relish. The interplay between the comics’ wives is particularly enjoyable: Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arianda) were evidently as chalk and cheese as their husbands, and their reluctant friendship is a highlight of the film.

A good movie, then, but not a brilliant one, despite those fine impersonations of two comedy legends.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

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Mindhorn

05/05/17

Here’s a bit of an oddity – a movie shot on the Isle of Man, that isn’t pretending to be Scotland or Ireland or Monte Carlo, but actually is, of all things, the Isle of Man. That’s because the location was the regular haunt of fictional 80s cop, Mindhorn (think a cross between Bergerac and the Six Million Dollar Man and you’re pretty much there). But time has moved on and actor Richard Thorncroft (Julian Baratt) has lost his hair, developed a beergut and is finding it increasingly difficult to land decent acting work, reduced now to advertising corsets and support stockings. This is doubly annoying considering his old co-star, Peter Eastman (Steve Coogan) has managed to string out his spin-off series, Windjammer for eight successful seasons and still lives on the island in unabashed luxury.

Thorncroft thinks he sees an opportunity to revitalise his own career, when a suspected serial killer, who calls himself ‘The Kestrel’ (Russell Tovey) announces to the police that he will talk to only one person – Mindhorn himself. Thorncroft heads back to his old stamping ground and begins to reconnect with people from his past – not least, his regular love interest on the series, Patricia Deville (Essie Davies) who now lives with Thorncroft’s old stunt stand in, Clive (Simon Farnaby). But as the events unfold, the former star is drawn into a bit of amateur sleuthing – and it becomes apparent that things may not be exactly what they seem…

Mindhorn may not be big on belly laughs, but it’s a decent comedy thriller with an appealing central premise and it’s shot through with a genuine sense of pathos. Thorncroft’s desperate need to rekindle his former star power verges on desperation only leads him, inevitably into deeper humiliation. The film boasts a starry cast, including Andrea Riseborough, Simon Callow, Harriet Walter and (in an uncredited cameo) Kenneth Branagh, who enjoys one of the film’s most outrageous scenes. Barrett makes a convincing transition to leading man and Essie Davies is also terrific as Mindhorn’s lost love. It’s clear from the outset that the two of them have some unfinished business.

So yes, enjoyably silly stuff. Make sure you stay till the end of the credits for a showing of Mindhorn’s wonderfully naff power ballad, You Can’t Handcuff the Wind, the dreadful lyrics of which may just be worth the price of admission alone.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney