Touching The Void


Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Written by:Joe Simpson
Starring: Joe Simpson, Simon Yates, Nicholas Aaron, Brendan Mackey
Released: June 24, 2004
Grade: A

In 1985, friends Joe Simpson and Simon Yates tried to scale one of the highest mountains in Peru – the 21,000 foot Siula Grande.  Others had attempted the climb previously but were unsuccessful.  This only added to the attraction of the mountain for these two young English climbers.  Their adventure has become a commonly told tale in mountaineering circles.  Now, the story has been magically brought to life by Academy Award winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald, and the two men themselves.

Touching The Void is an unconventional film in that it is part film and part documentary.  It is narrated by both the real Joe Simpson and Simon Yates who often appear on screen.  There is also the visual element – two actors, Nicholas Aaron and Brendan Mackey, play the younger Simpson and Yates as we watch the journey unfold.

Why this story is special is how amazingly against the odds their survival was.  Just after starting their decent, Simpson fell and his leg was badly broken.  You’ll cringe when you hear Simpson describe this horrible moment.  At that altitude, such an event is usually a death sentence.  It’s tough enough scaling the walls of rock and ice with two legs let alone one.

We obviously know that both live to tell the tale but how they did so, I will leave for you to discover.  This story sounds very similar to a film I saw a few years ago called Vertical Limit which starred Chris O’Donnell.  I wrote that film off as being commercialised and unrealistic.  I’d think the same here too but that’s what makes it so special – this actually did happen and we’re hearing a first hand account of it all!

Partially funded by the National Geographic Channel, Touching The Void is beautifully filmed.  There’s no bogus locations either – Macdonald and his crew went back to the actual Siula Grande to shoot the entire recreation of events.  I know nothing of the two actors who play Simpson and Yates but they do such a fantastic job that you’ll think you’re watching the real thing.  You feel right there with them.

Few films are this interesting and Touching The Void won the BAFTA Award earlier this year for best British film.  The other nominees were Cold Mountain, Girl With A Pearl Earring, In This World and Love Actually.  There’s some food for thought and another endorsement of just how good this film is.  Dazzling stuff.