Featured Article – Touching The Sky: The True Story Of Eddie The Eagle
Entertainment website Moviepilot.com recently sent me to an advance screening of biopic “Eddie the Eagle,” on the true story of British Olympic ski-jumper Michael “Eddie” Edwards, and I wrote this piece focusing on the real guy behind the upcoming film. It was honestly one of my highlights of the new year, because the movie (which I recommend even as someone who has never seen an athletics-themed movie basically ever) is essentially an explosion of earnest optimism and unpretentious happy, which in a sea of grimdark ‘gritty’ reboots is… just. Kind of a ray of hope. And something I personally needed.
We all need this. Wow. Less edgy, more Eddie.
Touching The Sky: The True Story Of Eddie The Eagle
By RoAnna Sylver ⋅ Posted on February 9th, 2016 at 12:43am
We need more people like Michael “Eddie The Eagle” Edwards. And more movies like the one that tells his story. I imagine critics are going to be pretty polarized by it — which is to be expected, given the atmosphere surrounding him when he made it to the 1988 Winter Olympics as the first and only British ski-jumper in 52 years, becoming an overnight sensation. He was called many things — and “polarizing” was certainly one of them.But whether you call him an underdog champion for the common folk, or a laughable novelty act (a label he’d dispute, and work to prove wrong), nobody can argue that he didn’t leave an impression.
Like many biopics before it, the film version of this true story does stretch the truth somewhat — but nothing about Eddie’s determination, drive or sheer joy and enthusiasm are exaggerated. Rather, some of the other major characters are fictional, as are a few dramatic twists. Most of the changes are for story structure and the sake of narrative — but these creative licenses do nothing to diminish the impact of the history, and do everything to keep its spirit intact. Eddie’s real-life story is every bit as exciting, inspiring, endearing and significant as the one I truly hope you’ll check out on the big screen come February 26.
It’s for this reason I’d really like to show you the real Eddie.
From plasterer to cult icon and back again
Eddie’s journey began in Cheltenham, England. His family was decidedly working class, with little opportunity and resources to allow their son to pursue his dream of Olympic glory; Eddie’s father was the latest in a long line of plasterers, and fully intended for his son to continue the family business, while his mother worked long hours in an aluminum door factory. However, Eddie had other aspirations.
An important detail that the film faithfully included, Eddie was extremely longsighted, which required him to wear very thick glasses at all times, even under his goggles while skiing (along with six pairs of socks in ill-fitting, borrowed ski boots). His glasses often fogged up and might have impaired his vision as much as they helped it, but they also became a kind of trademark symbol of both Eddie’s humble beginnings, personal adversity and undaunted determination.
But as opposed to the dramatized version of his story, Eddie was indeed a dedicated downhill skier — and failed to qualify for the British team’s 1984 Winter Olympics by the tiniest of margins. After this disappointment, he relocated to New York’s Lake Placid, where he trained under two coaches (neither of who were named Bronson Peary)
In addition to being the British ski-jumping record holder, Eddie also took the #9 place in the world for amateur speed skiing (106.8 mph) and held the stunt-jumping world record for flying over 10 cars/6 buses.
So far from being someone who just randomly showed up at the Winter Olympics in Calgary, he already had a well-established history of skiing — very, very fast — and jumping — very, very far.
He wasn’t a complete rank beginner to the sport, as the film puts forth — but I do understand why they downplayed his prior experience for the purpose of dramatic license. A major reason for the wide appeal of Eddie The Eagle, to the point of his becoming something of a cult hero, was that he was real. Human. A newcomer compared to the professionally trained career Olympians. Accessible. An honest, relatable everyman, who we could talk to and be friends with and laugh with — even if some people were certainly laughing at him. He was someone who gave real people hope, who we could look at and say, “One day, that really could be me.”
Someone who broke out into infectious giggles and dances when he made a jump nobody expected him to make in his life. It might not have been a medal-winning performance — he might have just barely even placed in the competition — but it didn’t matter. He was there, taking part. He was living his dream, and having fun, and flying.
“I was a true amateur and embodied what the Olympic spirit is all about,” he says. “To me, competing was all that mattered. Americans are very much, ‘Win! Win! Win!’ In England, we don’t give a fig whether you win. It’s great if you do, but we appreciate those who don’t. The failures are the people who never get off their bums. Anyone who has a go is a success.”
— An interview at the Smithsonian Magazine by Franz Lidz
And happily, Eddie didn’t peak at the Olympics, or retire after achieving his dream. He kept skiing and improving his jumps; his personal best is an impressive 115m (377ft) in 1997.
He appeared many times on television, not only commemorating his Olympic infamy and running with his folk-hero status, but competing anew in reality shows (yes, in a variety of sporting ones, not just skiing — and winning them!).
He wrote a book about his experiences, entitled On The Piste, And even performed songs. In Finnish. Like this one, that hit #2 on the Finnish pop charts.It’s happy and funny and its joy is infectious, just like Eddie. The only reason I’m not embedding it here is that you will never get it out of your head, regardless of whether you speak Finnish — which he didn’t, and to this day still doesn’t!
So while it might have looked like he was basically trolling reality (and having fun doing it), he legitimately was — and remains — dedicated to his sport, both before the Olympics and after. Eddie even lent his expertise to the making of the film, assisting the set and costume designers to achieve maximum authenticity — and offering to do his own stunts. (They didn’t take him up on his offer, but the love and dedication was clearly there.)
Who’s a novelty act now, tiny people?
So the film, and maybe public perception, did have a slightly skewed idea of him than what was reality — and maybe this adds to the sensation. He didn’t decide to ski jump on a whim, but dramatic license catches much more attention and audience reaction. The film that bears his name is an uplifting and boundlessly hopeful retelling of this story that captured worldwide attention, even if it does stretch the truth somewhat. However, it doesn’t fudge one bit of Eddie’s determination to fly, or his love of the sport.
Taron Egerton as Michael “Eddie” Edwards
Some events were switched around, purely for the story trajectory. For example, the Olympics new entry jump length and experience restriction, fittingly called the Eddie The Eagle Rule, wasn’t enacted to stop him from competing the first time, but was put into place later to keep anyone else from following in Eddie’s tradition-defying footsteps.
Hugh Jackman as (fictional) mentor Bronson Peary
And sadly, Hugh Jackman’s memorable character is apparently entirely fictional.Still, the idea of a rough-hewn ex-Olympian burnout works really well as a foil to the starry-eyed idealistic newcomer, and Jackman and Egerton have great chemistry together.
Christopher Walken as Warren Sharp
Ditto for Christopher Walken, who plays another fictional character in the film (I won’t spoil his storyline for you, but it is, as always, a standout performance, and a surprisingly devastating one at that).
Sometimes fiction just underscores the truth.
Aside from the creative liberties the film takes, its authentic spirit is front and center. The movie is ultimately not about the intrigue or side plots — rather, it’s about an earnest and unpretentious dreamer with the determination and courage to back it up, who just wants to fly.
As fun as the movie is, I hope we don’t forget the guy who inspired it. Although, given his legacy of courage, I doubt there’s much chance of that.
The real Edwards actually had some reservations about the film, commenting via the BBC that he’d been told that only around 10-15% of the script was based on the true facts of his life.
Edwards said: “I’ve not really seen the script so I don’t know what they’ve picked out of the things that happened in my life and what is made up. There’s always a certain amount of [poetic license] but I’m kind of anxious — what exactly have they put in about my life and how have they portrayed me?”
I don’t know his thoughts on the end product, of course — but after seeing it myself, I don’t think he has much to worry about, and I hope he’s happy with the results. His legacy won’t fall flat that easily.
Creative liberties aside, I do believe the movie captures the spirit of what Eddie The Eagle set out to do, and why he resonated so deeply with so many. Achieve a dream despite the odds and the naysayers. Capture and express the joy of pursuing it.
The message is simple. It’s unshakably determined, irrepressibly joyful, refreshingly un-edgy… and totally Eddie.