Sandow (2018). Film review of the indie biopic about a Victorian strongman

image film poster sandow lion


star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review, by Jason Day, of Sandow, the indie biopic of Eugen Sandow, the legendary Victorian strongman who rose to fame in the 19th century as ‘the world’s strongest man’. Directed by Alexander Cooper and starring Timo Kervinen in the title role.

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Eugen Sandow was the ‘World’s Strongest Man’ in the late Victorian era, a pioneer in physical fitness and nutrition and who owned the world’s first chain of gyms. But what led him to success and what was his undoing? Writer/director Alexander Cooper explores his life, loves and losses in this indie drama.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

(Eugen Sandow was…) The Father of bodybuilding.

Nearly a century before Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferigno were mere glints in their fathers’ eyes, there were other, early physical fitness pioneers. Of those that abounded, German Eugen Sandow was one of the most financially successful of mighty men.

Courted by polite – and low – society and contracted by American showbiz entrepreneur Florenz Ziegfeld to flex his muscles world-wide to paying members of the public, Sandow raked in a small fortune from this a first chain of gyms but died following a car accident in the 1920’s.

Back in these days, Sandow lifting false-barbells in his tighty-whities and posing with nothing but a fig-leaf on would have had Victorian m’ladies and m’luds coughing on more than just the daily London smog.

Writer/director Cooper makes his first solo feature, after some short subjects and a co-directing credit on other feature.

He is certainly a man of ambition to push the cinematic boat out by choosing a period drama as that fledgling film. Of course, with £25k, you don’t get anything approaching Merchant Ivory proportions, but he uses some sleight of hand and creativity to mask this.

Aided by good camerawork from Richard Bertenshaw, who creates a muted colour scheme, sometimes with a sepia tinge, that apes age old Victorian posters, it looks as good as possible.

Some messy sound recording during some scenes such as Sandow as a child talking with his distant father do not, however, completely ruin the dialogue (as point of fact, the dialogue throughout the film is of a good quality).

Cooper clearly establishes how Sandow, who idolised this emotionally neglectful man, wanted to get big to shed the ‘runt’ image his father had of him. Psychologically, Sandow might be the first case study of a pre-steroid ‘Bigorexic’.

Cooper has made quite a find with strapping Finnish actor Kervinen who shares a passing resemblance to the title character. His performance, as a real-life old school Prussian showman who made an entrepreneurial empire from his body, is gruff and businesslike, as you would imagine this famous man to have been.

The supporting cast put in a committed show around him, particularly Olivier Maigniez in the flasher role as Ziegfeld.

Overall, as a first go at helming his own full-length film, Cooper has done himself credit. I admire anyone who loves cinema enough to dip their toe in the water and make their own script a reality – I wish I had the confidence to do the same as him when I was younger. More power to his elbow!

For more, see the official site.

Cast & credits

Director: Alexander Cooper.

Producer: Alexander Cooper.
Writer: Alexander Cooper.
Camera: Richard Bertenshaw.
Sets: Ellie Light.

Alexander Cooper, Timo Kervinen, Olivier Maigniez, Tiffany Ellen-Robinson, Janine Nerissa Broadhead.


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