Bittersweet. And touching. Warm. This seems to be the critical consensus over Stan & Ollie, a film based on the final farewell tour of much loved silent comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. For once, consensus is on the nail.
There is a touch of sadness – how could there not be in a film about their last act? - but for the most part, this is a gentle, appreciative exploration of what happens after the Big Box Office has gone away and the time has come for a pair of iconic comedians to fade into history.
It's a simple enough story. Unlike other great comedians of their generation, including Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C. Reilly) were skint. A number of factors contributed to this. Prodigious wives – Hardy married three times, Laurel five: though that included twice to the same person! - and in the case of Hardy, a serious gambling addiction did not help.
The true source of their money woes, though, was the fact that when other stars were negotiating a percentage on film royalties or even directing their own films, Laurel and Hardy were trapped in a contract with Hal Roach, that paid them a salary. Not an entirely bad salary, and it suited them at the time: but when their films went global, they benefited not one cent from their own fame.
The villain of this piece, therefore is Hal Roach, here played angrily, in flashback, by Danny Huston. Also not entirely approved of is Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) the oleaginous British impresario whose bright idea it was to bring the comedy duo out of retirement and set them on the road round the British Isles.
One cannot help but wonder what bad experience has led Director, Jon Baird and Writer, Jeff Pope to have such a low regard for those whose main contribution to the creative scene is to act as enablers: to make shows happen but not, themselves, contribute much, if at all, to the creative process.
There is no great drama here: just a working out of frictions as this film focuses on assumed past resentments between the pair when they previously split up. Though perhaps this is over-stated just a little in order to create drama where there would otherwise have been little.
After a slow start, the British public warm to them again and they play to full houses right up until their final (ever) show together in Ireland.
On-stage tension is paralleled with the arrival of their respective wives, Ida (Nina Arianda) and Lucille (Shirley Henderson). These, alternately protective and proud of their husbands add perspective and, though their bickering. more than a little comedy of their own.
Will it all end in tears? Of course not: it's not that sort of film. Except, maybe, as the curtains come down on that final show, you'd be hard indeed not to dab discreetly at one eye with a tissue.
This is a lovely film, rightly up for a clutch of awards (it has already won John Reilly a couple of Best Actor trophies and Steve Coogan is in the running for BAFTA Best Actor on the basis of this film).
It is hard to choose between the two protagonists, as both do an excellent job of bringing their characters to life on-screen. But if I had to pick one individual who absolutely nails it, both as real-life person and on-stage presence, it has to be Coogan, who proves, yet again, how brilliant he is both as actor and impersonator.