The various trailers before the main film I had to sit through all bore the notice Based on a true story/inspired by a true story and a biopic fits into that category. The film features Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s final UK tour in which Ollie was to sustain a heart attack. After that neither worked again although Laurel continued to write Laurel & Hardy scripts.
There were a number of omissions and inaccuracies. The film of Robin Hood which failed to materialise for lack of finance was a project for them some 7 years beforehand; despite Laurel being born in Ulvaston the movie did not major on his English connections – the landlady of the Nottingham pub was his sister but the pub featured without this relationship to show how the two careers had descended by reference to their accommodation.
The tours were always successes though the clear impression was given by impresario Bernie Delfont (Rufus Jones) that this one did not start well playing before empty houses as their careers were over, Delfont being more interested in his latest discovery Norman Wisdom.
It worked best in revealing the chemistry between Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) – the clever one that wrote the gags – and Oliver Hardy (John C Reilly) who was particularly good at the dancing sequences.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had different length contracts with Hal Roach. Laurel sued Roach but Hardy continued to work for him which caused a tension between the two, Laurel accusing his partner of betrayal.
I preferred the Reilly portrayal as it brought out the warmth and vulnerability of Hardy, a pleasure seeker and gambler. Both had several wives and messy divorces.
This said, it’s a warm-hearted bittersweet film which deserves to be made if only to keep the flame burning of a double act which must be regarded as the most successful in film history.