Eddie the Eagle is the story of Michael “Eddie” Edwards, the English skier and ski-jumper who, by dint of character and hard work, overcame disadvantages and setbacks to set a number of records and became the first British ski jumper to compete in the Olympics in 1988. I saw this film a few weeks ago, but — rather like the film itself — there seemed to be no urgency in reviewing it: the filmmakers hadn’t waited for the release to coincide with a particular anniversary or with a comparable event. It is a film that raises the question: why now?
If I said the film is basically a rehash of Jon Turteltaub’s 1993 hit Cool Runnings about the Jamaican bobsleigh team, I wouldn’t be far of the mark. It is, however, like so many copies, not as good as the original. There are minor differences: John Candy’s coach in Cool Runnings is a former cheat, whereas Hugh Jackman’s is a washed-up alcoholic; you have a team in Cool Runnings, whereas Edwards is a lone individual; the racial oppression angle has been replaced by one of social class, but as race is allegedly a social construct anyway, probably doesn’t even count. Basically, the two films follow the same formula.
Taron Egerton gives a likeable enough performance as Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, which is good, because the real Edwards is a likeable man. His problem is he is just too handsome for the role. The real Edwards has a prominent lower jaw, which Egerton attempts to emulate by sticking out his jaw, but this just makes him look like a man sticking out his lower jaw, which is what he’s doing.
Hugh Jackman (I always want to call him Hugh Jassman) also gives a surprisingly likeable and less treelike performance as Bronson Peary and strikes up a good rapport with the eponymous character. Less likeable is Keith Allen, who takes on a rather clichéd and well-worn role of the small-minded, disapproving, working-class father who wants his son to “lead a normal life,” which consists of being a plasterer. This archetype, it must be pointed out, although having instances of truth, is largely a fiction created by working-class writers exaggerating a “struggle against adversity” story, which middle-class writers like J. K. Rowling have also since adopted. In reality, Edwards’ real father worked extra hours to fund his son’s dream.
Keith Allen too is someone who comes from a middle-class background, but plays the role of “the worker” – or what he believes a worker is or should be, in line with his Trotskyite ideology – in real life. This role is, however, as is always the case with such people, more towards the underclass ethos, his daughter Lily Allen epitomising such an ethic. This has led the pair to constantly rail against the real culturally conservative working class, with Keith having made a sneering Channel 4 “documentary” on the British National Party, critiquing a lack of “progressive” values at every turn.
This sneer at the very people he claims to represent comes through in his role as Edwards Senior, as well as a very general lack of pathos or humanity that comes from ideologues obsessed with fitting people to theories. There is no doubt that Allen relished acting in a film where he could rebel against the bourgeoisie, whence he comes, and thus rebel against his father and privileged upbringing that saw him go to Brentwood Preparatory School.
The underlying principle of the film is indeed the “triumph against class prejudice,” which, as we’ll see, does have some legitimacy to it in Edwards’ case. The Peary character and his whole story is, however, completely fictitious, and so therefore is Christopher Walken’s cameo character as Peary’s former coach Warren Sharp. The storyline serves to create a direct comparison between the two stereotypes of the meritorious elitism of America and the snobbish stultifying class-based elitism of Britain, and thus reinforces the main thread. It is again symptomatic of the self-detestation of bourgeois Britain that is typified by chinless liberal Tim McInnerny, who plays the antagonist role of Dustin Target, a sociopathic bourgeois snob. He played exactly the same role in the comedy series Blackadder Goes Forth.
This snobbishness is extended out to the other European nations, who mock Eddie’s ineptitude and dilapidated equipment. In actual fact, Edwards has stated in interviews that the Austrians gave him new skis, the Italians a new helmet, the West Germans a new ski suit, and the Swiss free coaching.
Dustin Target is equally a fiction. The film shows how Target raises the bar for qualification to try to stop Edwards from qualifying. The bar for Olympic qualification was actually raised by the International Olympic Committee in 1990 as a response to Eddie’s celebrity as a “gallant loser” from a white working-class background. It was actually popularly known as the “Eddie the Eagle Rule,” so there was no doubt as to who they were targeting. The rule requires Olympic hopefuls to compete in international events and be placed in the top 30 percent or the top 50 competitors, whichever is fewer.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to hold to the values of elitism and, as the Olympic slogan reads, “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” The problem is they broke their own rule by making exceptions – and these exceptions are made in “developing countries,” where athletes allegedly do not have access to the latest training facilities. This implicitly means of course non-White counties and has seen in the Olympic Games the likes of Eric “the Eel” Moussambani finish the 100m freestyle swimming event in 1:52:72 (world record: 46:91), Savannah Sanitoa throw the shot all of 8.55m (world record: 22.63m), and perhaps most gallingly for Edwards the Kenyan Philip Boit finish the 10km cross-country skiing race at the Nagano Winter Olympics in a time of 47:25:5, almost eight minutes behind the next competitor. The winner had had his feet up for twenty minutes.
Edwards also had no sponsorship, no government funding, and no training facilities in his native Britain and struggled alone through economic hardship in one of the most dangerous events. When he competed at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, he had been a ski jumper for just two years. It takes a brave man to do a ski jump without adequate training. There is in this case something to cheer for in the gallant loser. There is something in the European soul that appreciates the “gallant loser.” The “gallant losers” now though compete in much safer sports and our lords and masters make sure they have black faces.
David Yorkshire is the editor of Mjolnir Magazine.