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 docudrama survival film about Joe Simpson's and Simon Yates' disastrous and near-fatal climb of Siula Grande in the Cordillera Huayhuash in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. It is based on Simpson's 1988 book of the same name.

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


In 1985, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, both experienced mountaineers, set out to ascend the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande in Peru. Though they successfully reach the summit, the weather quickly turns sour and Joe is severely injured in a fall during the descent, resulting in a badly broken leg. The pair attempt a self-rescue, deciding to lower Joe with ropes down the steep and snowy slope while an enormous storm rages on. Simon cannot see where he is lowering Joe and Joe eventually drops over the edge of a large 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.

Unable to pull Joe back over the cliff and gradually losing traction in the loose snow, Simon realizes after about an hour that there is little chance of recovery from this situation for either of them and he makes the decision to cut the rope connecting him with Joe. After surviving a subzero and stormy night on the mountain, Simon descends, but cannot find his partner. He assumes Joe is dead and returns to the base camp alone, where he stays to recover.

However, Joe has actually survived the fall and is now trapped in a large crevasse. He manages to lower himself further into the dark abyss and finds an exit leading to the base of the mountain. He then spends days crawling back to base camp across glaciers and rocks, despite his broken leg, frostbite, and severe dehydration. Exhausted and almost completely delirious, Joe reaches camp only a few hours before Simon intends to leave and return to civilization.


The film stars Brendan Mackey as Joe Simpson, Nicholas Aaron as Simon Yates, and Ollie Ryall as Richard Hawking, and combines dramatizations 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 Yates and 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 a great deal of criticism from the mountaineering community for cutting the rope on his partner during the descent after the story of what happened to the climbers 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 largely positive reviews, with 93% of critics' reviews being positive on Rotten Tomatoes.


Touching the Void won Best British Film at the 2004 BAFTA Awards.[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 in theaters 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]


External links[edit]