In the same 1988 Winter Olympic Games in which the Jamaican bobsled team represented in Cool Runnings was catapulted to fame, Calgary played host to yet another equally ambitious unconventional sports team, made up of one man; Eddie the Eagle, or Michael “Eddie” Edwards from Cheltenham. The new imaginatively named Eddie the Eagle film, directed by Dexter Fletcher, pays homage to his remarkable ski-jumping success story.
Whether or not it can really be described as a success story, however, is debatable. “It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts.” That age-old school motto, not thought up by a loser as everyone assumes, but rather by a very respectable Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee, is the motto of which Eddie remains the living embodiment. Qualifying for the Olympics with a despicably low score purely on the basis that he was Britain’s only ski jumper, Eddie knew he would never step onto the medal podium, and instead had a blast of a time coming last in the events he took part in. He has been said to symbolise the true spirit of the Olympics in his enthusiasm to participate, and whilst his story may be lacking in a gold ski jump medal the film nevertheless deserves one for pure light-hearted enjoyment.
Of course, being a film intended for entertainment, there are many inaccuracies in the plot compared to real life, and the whole drama is somewhat overglorified. Eddie, played by Taron Egerton of Kingsman, is mentored by an entirely fictitious swaggering alcoholic, Hugh Jackman (X-Men), trained for two years rather than the one mentioned in the film, and it was certainly not his first time on the gut-wrenching 90m jump at the Olympics as the film leads to believe. In fact, there are so many inaccuracies that if you take the time to look them up they start to take away from the enjoyment of the film – if you are expecting a word-for-word biography, prepare to be disappointed.
However, these can be overlooked as the film does retain some resemblance to real life, and the two main purposes of the film are to tell the story and provide light-hearted entertainment, both of which it successfully achieves. It is the classic clichéd underdog genre of film; you enter the cinema knowing exactly what to expect, and leave the cinema drunk on satisfaction and Hollywood hype.
Anyway, who doesn’t love a good slightly inaccurate life story? It makes a nice break from the reality pages featuring mainstreamosities like Kim K’s derriere and plenty far more current things besides – I don’t keep up with the Kardashians – and Eddie’s good old galumph around the Games seems virtually superhuman in comparison. His mere act of being there can be considered superhuman, representing a sport in which he had been training for a fraction of the time compared to the professionals, and because of which he gained much criticism. From the outset, owing to the natural risks of sailing through the air high above ground, like a helmeted hot dog in a food fight, ski jumping is incredibly hazardous even for professionals, and for an amateur to reach the international stage after a mere two years is impressive, daring and to an extent dangerously stupid. It is easy to understand why some ski jumpers at the time argued he took away from the professionalism of the sport, but you have to admire his drive and general sod-off attitude in doing so.
Dexter Fletcher, in quite a departure from Sunshine on Leith, creates a film which questions the ethos of the winning culture through the example of Eddie. Our obsession with winning is instinctively understandable, one need only think of the survival of the fittest survival theory; after all who doesn’t want to be the best? I can think of countless daydreams where I’ve defied nature to wow audiences with previously non-existent singing and dancing talents and ridden to glory in the Grand National, not necessarily in that order. But pushing aside this incessant value on the number one for a moment allows us to appreciate those who miss out on gold but still achieve something very impressive, not awarded with recognition but even so still deserving a podium of sorts. Although Pierre’s quote is a lovely idea, the fact that there is not a podium to recognise everyone taking part, only the top three, goes to show that however much we bang on about the taking part ultimately our society does not value participating, only winning, which is a somewhat depressing thought. For this reason the film brings a genuine smile to the face when Eddie is ecstatic despite coming last, having by the skin of his teeth landed the jump and achieved a personal best.
Towards the end my eyes were surprisingly watery, however as I seem to be very easily affected by films I’m not sure if this says more about me or the film, but in any case the film lives up to its cheesy biographic genre expectations. It is a joy to watch Eddie’s journey towards realising his Olympic dream, and being based on a true story makes it all the more fascinating to watch. I know I for one shall be inspired to not wimp out at the slightest bump on the slope next time I strap on my skis.
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