Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards was a British ski jumper in the late 1980s who became famous for representing Britain in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. He came a resounding last and as a result became a media celebrity, the traditional underdog, complete with thick spectacles and a jutting chin. This is a film inspired by that story, sold as a light-hearted story of a determined young man, a feel-good movie.
To a certain extent the film succeeds. There are moments that make you smile and laugh out loud and plenty of scenes that make you feel for Eddie in his struggle to achieve his dream. The ending undeniably lifts the viewer up, despite the fact that however soaring the final jumps seem to be, they were still extremely poor when considering the Olympic standard. But there is something unnerving about Eddie. From a young age all he ever wanted to be was an Olympian. The opening section of the film shows him in the alleyway behind his house, attempting to hurdle, long jump and throw javelins (long sticks). Each effort ends in failure – and a broken pair of glasses. Persuaded to give up his dream, he follows in his father’s footsteps and trains as a plasterer, until he realises that winter sports may prove an easier way to becoming an Olympian. He misses out on representing Britain in downhill skiing and after another period of plastering, finally turns to ski jumping, realising there are no competitors and no entry requirements. Unfortunately the British Olympic Committee decided there should be, imposed a minimum distance of 60m. Eddie sets out on a quest to achieve the distance and his dream of becoming an Olympian.
And there lies the problem. Eddie only wants to represent his country at the Olympics. He doesn’t care if it’s at the Summer or Winter games and has no preference for a sport. He is an individual, a loner, and one that seems to be a few slices short of a loaf. He is anything but a team player and fails to grasp that concept throughout. Yes he is determined to achieve his dream and at any cost, particularly to his working class mother and father. He is also fearless, moving up the ski jump heights once he has managed the previous one without killing himself. One perception of him could be that he was selfish and that certainly comes across in this film.
Helping him on his way is former American Olympic ski jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a washed up, rebellious, alcoholic has-been. Together the two form an unlikely partnership and achieve success in reaching the new qualifying standard to make Eddie an Olympian. Despite Eddie’s slightly selfish attitude, empathy is built through his self-determination. He raises his own funds, works in the local ski jump bar and is the brunt of his competitors jokes. Bullying is rampant, from the Olympic committee creating the minimum requirements, his father (after 20 odd years) having no more encouragement to give, to his own team at Calgary getting him drunk so he misses the opening ceremony.
The culmination of these events make the last jump so satisfying. The Calgary crowd love him as the underdog, and he is portrayed as almost a mascot. His fearlessness and perseverance means he attempts the 90m jump for the first time, in front of an enthusiastic crowd and a television audience of millions. Overall, Eddie The Eagle is an enjoyable British film that leaves the viewer feeling uplifted in the knowledge that the underdog can win his own personal battles, and that it’s the taking part that counts.
On a side note, this film was directed by actor Dexter Flexter who starred in 1980s children’s show Press Gang, about a kids run newspaper), and it was secretly exciting to see his former co-star Paul Reynolds in a cameo as a sleazy journalist.