Just like Eddie

In the youngest edition of The Oldie – June, out already – Marcus Berkmann reviews the film Eddie The Eagle, which tells a version of the well-known story of Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards, the Cheltenham plasterer turned Olympic ski jumper at Calgary 1988.

Berkmann starts by admitting that he would not have gone to see the film if he had not been writing about it.  Nor would I, had I not been invited, in my capacity as a ski pundit, to a preview.

The venue was a glamorous boho Soho hotel where I arrived in time to mingle with friends one of whom told me the film was going to be an important cultural moment in modern British history or some such twaddle; and that Eddie was making 30k or possibly 300k out of it.

From the opening notes of the soundtrack it was clear that the film couldn’t decide if it wanted to be Chariots of Fire or the Keystone Cops.

Young Eddie was a clumsy lad who kept falling over and breaking his glasses. Of course he did.  The script lacked the faintest spark of inspiration and never surprised.

One day I want to be in the Olympics.

Didn’t you have any ambition dad?  Yes, to be a plasterer.

The lines failed to take off and hit the ground with a thud, just like Eddie.  When he skied down a dry slope to join the line-up of British Olympic hopefuls and knocked over the entire row, domino-fashion, the audience laughed – in disbelief that any director could sanction such a feeble gag. The sports federation official was the usual chinless public school stereotype, naturally, and when Eddie reached the mountains we were treated to the tired old sauna joke with the weedy Englishman in his swimming trunks surrounded by herculean Vikings lifted from an Asterix cartoon book.  The typical ski jumper is an introverted waif, but this film left no cliché unturned.

A washed-up ski jumper turned up to be Eddie’s coach – on day release from The Tin Cup.  After too many drinks he launched himself down the ramp of the biggest jump with a fag between his teeth, at which point, while the music swelled, I lifted myself from the most comfortable cinema seat of my life and was out of the door – free – before Hugh Jackman landed.  It was a great relief to escape the film and a sycophantic Q&A session with Eddie himself to follow.

Since then I have been amazed to read so many positive reviews of the film.  A friend said it got better after I left – it could hardly have got worse – and reviewers including Berkmann have described it as a charming, feelgood film.  It didn’t make me feel good, merely angry that I had wasted hours travelling to and from London for such tripe.

Of course it doesn’t help when you know something about the subject matter of a film of this kind, which starts with the Butch Cassidy premise that ‘some of what follows is true’.   It’s not the liberties taken with the truth I object to, it’s the quality of this singularly undramatic film.  Apparently the script has been doing the rounds at Hollywood for years.  No surprise there.

I know it takes great courage to jump.  When I did a day’s taster ski jumping course in Utah, the sight of the 35m jump made me glad I wasn’t staying long enough to progress that far – never mind the 60 and 90 metre hills.  But ski jumping is not a dangerous sport, as long as it’s well controlled and the landing not flat.  Our children are far more likely to do themselves a serious injury in the terrain park.

I am no cheer leader for the sports establishment and I really don’t care that our downhillers – and the young Marcus Berkmann – were so cross that Eddie hogged the limelight in Calgary, instead of them.  But I have met Eddie and found him to be not an engaging clown, nor even a stereotypical plucky British loser, but a disingenuous and crafty self-publicist and tedious whinger with an acute sense of grievance.  He lost no opportunity to tell us about all the Ski Team members he once beat in a slalom.

Eddie also told us we should put money on him to win a forthcoming reality TV competition about diving, because he had an unfair advantage – ‘I know what to do with my body in the air’ – and the others wouldn’t stand a chance.  The fact that I didn’t place the bet, and he did win, makes me even more ill disposed towards him.

Eddie saw an opportunity, and took it.  That must have taken great determination.  Many other no-hopers have done the same and trailed in last at the Olympics, just for the thrill of taking part.   For Eddie, by contrast, it soon became a career move and he has worked hard at his career, travelling far and wide to dress up in chicken costumes and open supermarkets; using his rustic accent to reinforce the visually impaired Useless Eustace persona which is the key to his hold on the public consciousness.  If he has made money out of Eddie the Eagle, good luck to him.  At least it’s none of my money.

The film may not have told Eddie’s story accurately, but in one respect it was exactly like his story: an exercise in making money out of doing something badly.

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