During the filming of Simon Hunter’s Edie, famed octogenarian actress Sheila Hancock became the oldest person to ever climb Suilven, one of the most famous, tallest, and imposing mountains in Scotland. The feat is an extraordinary one even for younger people in peak physical condition—the various routes all stretch around fifteen miles over grueling terrain ending in a steep half-mile climb to the summit. Yet Hunter completed the climb herself largely unaided. Watching the film, one assumes a certain amount of movie magic helped her. There are cameras shooting the action, so there must have been cameramen. But no, most of the footage was captured with unmanned drones. When the film pulls back and sees Hancock isolated on the side of the mountain by her lonesome, we really are seeing a then 83-year old woman risking life and limb. Knowing this, one can’t help but feel mesmerized by Hancock’s fortitude and willpower.
These sequences couldn’t have been made without her, and indeed the tentative artistic success of Edie is due to much of the same. The story is woefully familiar—after the death of her husband, Edie Moore (Hancock) realizes she’s wasted her entire life, surrendering her dreams and ambitions to the alter of domestic life, raising distant, ungrateful children and tending to the shell of a once-abusive husband paralyzed by a stroke thirty years earlier. After her daughter disastrously tries to shove her into a nursing home, Edie rediscovers a post card from her father promising to take her on a climbing trip to the Scottish Highlands. We are thankfully spared any fist-pumping needle drop when Edie decides that, old age be damned, she’ll climb Suilven by herself. But the story beats are just as contrived as a few interjected bars of “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
She arrives in Scotland, befriends Jonny (Kevin Guthrie), a mountaineering expert who begrudgingly teaches her climbing before begrudgingly becoming her friend. They bicker and squawk, laugh and make-up, and even have a groan worthy “breakup” where she abandons him after mishearing him admit that he might only be helping her for the money. Whatever. She climbs the mountain, almost dies of exposure, gets rescued by a repentant Jonny, and makes it to the top. What matters is Hancock herself who brings an extraordinary dignity to the role. She’s the proof-of-concept that makes the whole thing work.