It turns out that if you want an against-the-odds underdog sport story, the best place to look is the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. The Canadian cold has already inspired 1993's Cool Runnings, the warmly comic tale of the Jamaican bobsled team, and now it's produced Dexter Fletcher's Eddie the Eagle, a less than subtle biopic about the finest – that is, only – British ski jumper of his generation.
Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) wants to be an Olympic champion but only drunken handyman Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) will help.
Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) wants to be an Olympic champion but only drunken handyman Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) will help. Photo: Supplied
Eddie Edwards was a very good, though not great, downhill skier who realised he was going to fall just short in his dream of representing Great Britain at the Winter Olympics. ("The Eagle" was a somewhat mocking nickname given his less than stellar standard.) His solution was to turn to ski jumping, which no Brit had competed in for many decades and which had no minimum requirement for qualification. If he lived, he was in.
As played by Kingsman: The Secret Service's Taron Egerton, Eddie is a bumbling 22-year-old enthusiast whose desire to compete at the highest level is both uplifting and half-deluded – he knows he's not good enough to do anything but come last, but he believes in his right to have what he calls "the moment". Obsessed with the Olympic dream since childhood, when he trained for track and field, Eddie is balanced between self-belief and selfishness.
There's a long and successful strain of British films about unlikely outcasts following their dreams, including Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot, where a coal-miner's son pursues a passion for ballet, and Eddie the Eagle neatly sets up the familiar dynamic of parental doubt and wider disbelief. Here Eddie's mother, Janette (Jo Hartley), is supportive, while his burly father, plasterer Terry (Keith Allen), wants him to stow his dream and learn a trade.
But a film can only be truly satisfying as an inspirational ode if the protagonist is surmounting something inside themselves, and not just outside interference. Too often in Eddie the Eagle, the barriers are stuffy British officials with the supposedly right accent or mocking elite Scandinavian ski jumpers who feel insulted by Eddie's last-minute conversion. The film never quite gets to grips with Eddie's personal outlook, or even genuinely queries his decisions.
Bronson, a former American ski-jumping champion who wasted his potential, is reduced to grooming the snow while taking nips from a conspicuous flask at the German ski-jumping facility Eddie fetches up at. Bronson is a snarling, perpetually hungover loner – Wolverine with skis instead of metal claws – who looks as if he could bench-press your car. He rejects, embraces and tests Eddie in a part so cliched that you need a movie star to pull it off with any degree of feasible conviction.
Eddie, of course, satisfies his squad goals, but Eddie the Eagle is slick to the point of slightness at times. You know where it's going. British obsessiveness in the face of reason can make for fascinating drama – consider David Lean's The Bridge on the River Kwai – and it simplifies the triumph, and personal ramifications, of Eddie's celebrated turn at Calgary. The film knows exactly how to land, just not how to take off.