Visually stunning with footage

from Siula Grande in Peru

The worst bit of the new Kevin Macdonald film of Joe Simpson's epic

Touching The Void is the moment when the actor playing Simpson fires

his bolt gun from the depths of a crevasse where he's trapped, lassos

the piton he's placed with a 60-metre rope then hauls himself up the

rope hand over hand, swinging free while the camera focusses on his

sweat-free but grimly set face.

Meanwhile back at the base camp metropolis, Simon Yates is calming

Joe's fiancee, played by Cameron Diaz, while she hysterically accuses

him of having cut the rope in order to land a massive BMC insurance

policy pay out.

Okay, stop there.

We were lying, but given the track record of climbing films on the

big screen it wouldn't be entirely surprising if if things weren't,

erm, entirely realistic. The good news is that Touching The Void, the

film, is both utterly faithful to Simpson's gut-wrenching, gripping,

epic book and, if anything, even more powerful and visceral.

Arguably, we think, the best climbing film ever made.

Filming in genuine alpine

conditions with temperatures down to minus 20C and


stuntwork coordinated by Brian Hall mean that the actors

really look like climbers

It's quite some trick and a tribute to the power of Simpson's story

that Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald manages not just to hold

the tension from the dramatic beginning as Joe and Simon set off on

their climb of Siula Grande, but to build it through Simpson's

nightmarish struggle down the crevasse to safety through to the

cliffhanging moment of Joe's final rescue.

Visually Stunning

The film is visually stunning - the starkly realistic climbing

sequences and stunts were filmed in the Alps and you can feel the

security or otherwise of every axe placement. Even better, a

20-person film crew actually returned to Siula Grande, in Peru's

Cordillera Huayhuash to shoot the actual face, for some incredible,

never before seen shots of the face itself and the base camp valley

and glacier.

The climbing shots were filmed in

the Alps

with dramatic results

What really makes it though is the intercutting of this dramatic

footage with both shots and voiceovers from simply shot but

exhaustive interviews with Simpson, Yates and Richard, the trekker

who was with them at base camp. It gives the film a simple humanity

and neatly captures the stark honesty of the inner voice that makes

the book so compelling and extraordinary.

Straight to Camera

It's also the first time, to our knowledge, that Simon Yates has

talked directly about his part in the story, meaning that the film,

for once, actually adds to the book. It's fascinating too to see

Richard, the grinning trekker, seemingly as bemused now by the whole

thing as he appears to have been when it happened - a neat

illustration of the differences between those who choose to tackle

hard mountains and 'normal' folk.

Brendan Mackay the actor playing

Joe Simpson - it's a tribute to the film that the


between reality and fiction become increasingly


Its the combination of the extraordinarily realistic climbing scenes

- some were filmed in blizzards at temperatures of around minus 20

degrees C in the Alps - with the voiceoevers that really make the

film and keep it real.

Somehow the knowledge that the gut-churning impact of Simpon's

initial fall, you hear the egg box crack of his leg snapping,

happened to a real person, makes the accident reconstruction more

horrifically real than anything Hollywood can come up with. After a

while you forget that these are actors playing Joe and Simon and

start to believe that the figures on the screen are the real climbers

there and then.

The crevasse scenes put Simpson's

plight into chilling perspective

In The Crevasse With Joe...

The strength of the visual medium adds real power to the story.

Simpson's crevasse escape was actually filmed inside a crevasse and

really brings home the crushing hopelessness of his position deep

inside the glacier. Similarly aerial shots of his crucifyingly slow

progress down the jumbled glacier make you realise just what he was

up against.

Even Simpson's slow descent into a state of waking nightmare is

brought vividly to life using a combination of aural and visual

effects, including the compulsive reptition of Boney M's 'Brown Girl

In the Ring'. And finally the climax is every bit as powerful and

moving as it is in the book.

On the glacier. Frightening


Just See It

We could blather on about Touching The Void, but the simple

message is that this is simply a superb docu-drama representation

that takes the skeleton of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates's story and

adds gripping, evocative flesh to those bones.

The film took two years to make and it shows. It's visually

stunning, but always realistic and the constant presence of the real

people involved in the drama, through voice-overs and head and

shoulder interview shots means you never forget that this is a real

story. In short it's a triumph that for once is every bit as good as

the book. Just go and see it.

Joe and Simon today, both still

very definitely alive.

For links to previous OM articles on TTV and about and by Joe

Simpson, scroll to the bottom of this page.

Where to see Touching The


The film has a gala premiere at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival

over the weekend of 14 / 15 November, but all showings at Kendal are

now sold out.

Fortunately there's not too long to wait with the fim scheduled

for general release from 12 December. The first cinemas due to

show it are listed below:


  • Odeon, Covent Garden
  • Ritzy, Brixton
  • Phoenix, East Finchley
  • Gate, Notting Hill
  • Other Cinema, Rupert Street
  • UCI thefilmworks, Greenwich
  • UGC, Shaftsbury Avenue
  • UGC, West India Quay
  • UGC, Fulham Road
  • Odeon, Swiss Cottage
  • Filmhouse, Richmond - 19/12/03


  • Phoenix, Oxford
  • Tyneside, Newcastle
  • Picturehouse FACT, Liverpool
  • Ster Century, Leeds
  • Cameo, Edinburgh
  • Picturehouse, Cambridge
  • Showroom, Sheffield
  • Watershed, Bristol
  • UCI thefilmworks, Manchester
  • UGC, Enfield
  • UGC, Birmingham Broad Street
  • UGC, Sheffield
  • UGC, Didsbury
  • UGC, Edinburgh
  • UGC, Glasgow Renfrew