“Eddie the Eagle” soars into theaters this weekend and while Dexter Fletcher’s crowd-pleasing sports film is absolutely terrific, one element stands out for the wrong reasons — Hugh Jackman‘s cigarette smoking.
In the film, Jackman’s Bronson Peary is depicted as a former golden boy skier turned burnout who drinks and smokes with reckless abandon — and coaches Taron Egerton’s Michael Edwards to become the British athlete to compete in Olympic ski jump when he finished last in every event he entered at the 1988 Winter Games.
Cigarette smoking is one of the reasons that 20th Century Fox’s otherwise family-friendly film earned a PG-13 rating.
The prominence of cigarettes make the movie an anomaly for recent Hollywood releases. It was approximately a decade ago that one Hollywood studio after another established anti-smoking policies regarding youth-rated movies, meaning all G, PG and PG-13 rated films.
As reported by the New York Times in 2007, 20th Century Fox had already instituted “a strict though intentionally unpublicized policy of rooting tobacco out of youth-friendly films” since as far back as 2004. “The studio’s production manual has mandated that no principal character can be seen to smoke in a film set in contemporary times and to be rated G, PG or PG-13 unless the studio’s president of production signs off on the scene,” the Times reported.
“Eddie the Eagle,” however, finds a loophole or two around that self-imposed restriction. Not only is it set in the 1980s and thus, not a contemporary story, but it’s not even a homegrown Fox production.
The project was initially developed by Matthew Vaughn‘s production company Marv Films, which is based in England. Fox signed on to distribute “Eddie the Eagle” early in the process, but the film was not subject to its production manual since it was made outside of the studio system.
“The movie is period, and back then, smoking wasn’t nearly as taboo as it is now,” an individual close to the project told TheWrap. “Hugh’s character is an athlete gone to seed, and one way to depict that was to show him smoking and drinking. I don’t think we were glorifying smoking, because by the end of the movie, he realizes he should invest in his life and his future, and he stops smoking. We wanted to show the character’s journey and that some of the vices he has taken up along the way are not good for him, so he’s going to give them up.”
What’s curious is that the chain-smoking Bronson is a fictional character whom the real Edwards has described as “an amalgamation of all my coaches.” This includes John Viscome and Chuck Berghorn, the latter of whom was most closely associated with Edwards’ bid for Olympic glory.
At one point in the film, Bronson does a ski jump of his own, with Jackman making it look effortless as he flicks a cigarette at the camera in slow-motion while racing downhill. Later, when Bronson warns Eddie of the sport’s many dangers, the younger man retorts, “You do realize that smoking cigarettes is a lot more dangerous than jumping the 90 meters,” thereby addressing the issue.
“This film has a great message, but it wasn’t conceived as a Disney movie. The smoking was a character decision, and the filmmakers made a point of having Eddie say that line,” the individual said, highlighting the juxtaposition between Bronson’s love of booze and Eddie’s own love of milk.
A studio insider echoed that point, explaining that “smoking was used in the film to symbolize how far [Jackman’s] character has fallen. It’s used to show the character’s arc and how he cleans himself up at the end (where he is even drinking milk). Smoking is NOT glorified, but rather in a sense demonized.”
Fletcher, Vaughn and their collaborators are certainly entitled to creative license, and cigarette smoking is not out of line in a PG-13 movie — it’s just uncommon these days as Hollywood makes a concerted effort to reduce smoking on the big screen.
“Eddie the Eagle” remains a wonderful, inspirational sports story that aims to give hope to children around the world, but the fact remains that Eddie’s story could have been told without all those stinky cigarettes.