Last month my son Adam took me to see the new film ‘Stan & Ollie’ as a birthday treat. We are both great Laurel and Hardy fans and thoroughly enjoyed what was one of the most heart warming films I’ve seen in years. One critic has described the film as “a love letter to cinema’s odd couple.”
Stan and Ollie were played superbly by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. There were times when I was completely convinced that they were the genuine comedy article.
It is set in Laurel and Hardy’s twilight years and tells the story of their tour of Britain and Ireland in 1953. At the time they were hoping to raise funds for a new spoof on the Robin Hood story, the first film they would have made together in sixteen years. At first they stay in some seedy hotels, play to half empty theatres and are very much seen as ‘has beens’. But the rekindling of the magic of their unique double act eventually draws in the crowds and their tour becomes a resounding success. But it would be the last time they worked together, as Ollie’s health began to deteriorate.
The film deals frankly with their very public parting, in 1937, when Stan left Hal Roach Studios for Fox productions in the hope that Ollie would follow him. It also celebrates the renewal of their friendship. For when Hardy collapses on stage, is diagnosed with heart failure and told by the doctors not to work again, Laurel visits him in his hotel room. When Ollie complains of feeling cold Stan gets into bed with him, as he did in so many of their short films. They hold hands and the hurt of the past melts away. It was a profoundly moving image of a very deep and lasting friendship. At the end of the film Ollie ignores the advice of the medics and performs one last time with his great pal and to a standing ovation from the adoring crowds. I don’t think that there was a dry eye in the cinema.
As well as celebrating the relationship between my two all time comedy heroes the film has led me to reflect on the friends I’ve made and how they have enriched my life and the life of my family.
I count myself blessed to have several very close friends. They have been there to share in times of celebration and joy, and in times of sadness and difficulty. Their friendship and love is offered unconditionally. We have regular get togethers, gone on some great holidays with our families and we have laughed and cried together through the years. I like to think that I am a good friend to them and their loved ones too.
This month, as we follow Jesus’ passion and resurrection, we will stand with him as he is welcomed into Jerusalem as the Messiah by the jubilant crowds; as he shares the last supper with his friends; as he is brought to the authorities by the lynch mob; as he is nailed to the cross; and as he is laid to rest in a friend’s grave. We will stand, too, with the women outside the empty tomb; and with the disciples, on Easter evening, when the risen Lord comes to them and speaks of peace.
In St John’s telling of the events of Maundy Thursday he records how Jesus shared the Passover meal with the disciples; how he washed their feet in an example of servanthood and predicted Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. Then he said something very important about our relationship with him, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends. This is my commandment, love one another as I have loved you”.
As Christians we know Jesus as Lord and King, but we don’t often celebrate how he revealed himself to us as our ‘Friend’. It’s a very intimate promise.
Similarly, as his followers, we call ourselves his disciples, servants and family. But we must always remember that we are also ‘friends’.
This Holy Week and Easter, as we celebrate again our Lord’s passion and resurrection, perhaps we could reflect on this as we think of the deep mystery of it all. It might give us a greater insight into what our Lord meant when he said, “Greater love has no one than this that they lay down their life for their friends.”
With every blessing,