Touching the Void (film)

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Touching the Void
Touching the Void.jpg
Region 2 DVD cover
Directed by Kevin MacDonald
Produced by John Smithson
Starring Brendan Mackey
Nicholas Aaron
Ollie Ryall
Distributed by Pathé
Release dates
  • 5 September 2003 (2003-09-05) (TIFF)
  • 12 December 2003 (2003-12-12)
Running time
106 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £2m
Box office $13,885,802

Touching the Void is a 2003 drama based on the book of the same name by Joe Simpson about Simpson's and Simon Yates' disastrous and near fatal attempt to climb Siula Grande (6,344 m) in the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes in 1985.

Critically acclaimed, it was listed in the PBS' 100 "Greatest" Documentaries of All Time. The Guardian described it as "the most successful documentary in British cinema history".[1]


Both climbers successfully reach the summit of the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande in Peru. Joe is injured during the descent after falling, resulting in a badly broken leg. The pair decide to lower Joe with the help of ropes on the steep snowy slope, while an enormous storm rages on. Simon cannot see where he is lowering Joe and Joe eventually drops off a cliff and is suspended by the rope in mid-air. Simon arrests his fall, but neither sees the predicament his partner is in nor hears him, due to the severity of the storm.

After about an hour, Simon realizes that there is little chance of recovery from this situation for either of them and he makes the decision to cut Joe's rope. After surviving a subzero and stormy night on the mountain, Simon descends, but cannot find his partner. He decides his partner is dead, and returns to the base camp alone, where he stays to recover.

Joe, who survived the fall but fell into a large crevasse, manages to lower himself further into the dark abyss despite his broken leg and find an exit leading to the base of the mountain. He then spends days crawling across glacier and rocks with his broken leg and other injuries. Exhausted and almost completely delirious, he reached base camp only a few hours before Simon intended to leave the base camp and return to civilization.


The film stars Brendan Mackey as Joe Simpson, Nicholas Aaron as Simon Yates and Ollie Ryall as Richard Hawking, and combined drama with interviews with Simpson, Yates and Hawking. Simpson and Yates doubled as their younger selves for long-distance shots of the snow-fluted couloirs of Siula Grande.[2] The film was directed by Kevin MacDonald.

When they collaborated on the film in 2003, Simpson and Yates had not seen one another for 10 years.[3]


During the making of the film, the director and producers invited Simon Yates and Joe Simpson to return to Siula Grande in 2002 for the first time since the events of 1985. Simpson, despite finding the return emotionally difficult and experiencing post traumatic stress syndrome on his return, eventually said that he was happy with the film and its portrayal of the events. Yates, on the other hand, reported having no emotional response to returning to Siula Grande, and decided to have nothing to do with the film once he had returned from the mountain.[4]

According to the film's end notes Yates received much criticism from some mountaineers for cutting the rope during the descent after the story of what happened to Simpson and Yates returned to England. Simpson has deeply accepted that Yates did the right thing[citation needed] and practically saved his life, and has always defended him on that matter.[citation needed]

The film received positive reviews with 93% positives critics in Rotten Tomatoes.


Touching the Void won the BAFTA for Best British Film at the BAFTA awards in 2004.[5]

The film was long listed for an OSCAR Best Feature Documentary award but was not nominated as judges felt it was not a documentary so did not qualify for an Academy Award.[6] Peter Knegt at the industry trade journal Indiewire calls it one of "10 incredible documentaries that weren't nominated for an Oscar".[7]

The BBC1's Film 2011 included Brendan Mackey's performance as Joe Simpson in their 'Top Five Actors' who "Should Have Won An Oscar", along with Ingrid Bergman (for Casablanca), Anthony Perkins (for Psycho), Ralph Fiennes (for Schindler's List) and Jeff Bridges (for The Big Lebowski).[8]

Box office[edit]

The film was released on 23 January 2004 and grossed $96,973 in the opening weekend. It went on to gross $4,593,598 in America and $9,292,204 from foreign markets for a worldwide total of $13,885,802 after 20 weeks.[9]


Original music for the film was scored by Alex Heffes. The climbers reach the summit to the climax of Thomas Tallis's Spem in alium. During one of Simpson's many deliriums, he experiences a very strong reminiscence of a Boney M song he hated thoroughly, "Brown Girl in the Ring"; at one point thinking "Bloody hell, I'm going to die to Boney M".

See also[edit]

  • Survival film, about the film genre, with a list of related films


External links[edit]