Legend. That may sound a bit strong for a ‘climber’ of whom many have never heard. But it soon becomes clear during this gentle and interesting documentary film, that MacInnes is nothing short of just that. A legend. And climber is an understatement.
Final Ascent documents Hamish MacInnes’ illustrious career. He has ascended the greatest peaks on the earth, taken part in many gruelling expeditions and saved many through extreme mountain rescue work. He became well known as the international word on climbing and inventor/designer of much equipment used ubiquitously and globally. He has written over forty books on the topic, worked with the BBC extensively and filmed alongside the likes of Sean Connery, Clint Eastwood and Michael Palin. Palin, in fact, opens the film, recounting warm recollections of his time with MacInnes.
It’s a mixture of footage, old interviews and recent conversations with Hamish, who’s now in his late 80s. However, this isn’t just a look at a remarkable individual from a mountaineering and local interest perspective. The film explores MacInnes’ psychogeriatric detainment in a hospital a few years previously, deemed a risk to himself and others. His dour, down to earth approach and wonderfully dry subtle humour brings much to the piece, particularly for a Scottish audience. There are some very funny moments, not least in his descriptions of some of his hospital experiences, as he’s detained with delirium and supposed dementia.
Periods of the film will carry more appeal for climbing enthusiasts. Yet for a niche topic, it’s watchable regardless of your level of climbing knowledge. Final Ascent has a significant purpose, beyond the highs and lows of scaling mountains. The film raises important and pertinent questions about mental health care in Scotland and the UK, through MacInnes.
It’s also an uplifting tale. A man who cheated death on many an occasion (trapped in avalanches, oxygen failure at high altitudes, injured and once without the aid of ropes due to a jam) and rescued many in the course of his career, rescues himself once again in a very different way. Hamish tells of how he claws back his memory by reading his own books over again and watching his interview and climbing footage.
MacInnes’ life story is a part of local modern history and will appeal to documentary and biographical film lovers. It’s not fast paced or thrilling, but considered and attractively presented.
Final Ascent: The Legend of Hamish MacInnes is an intriguing real-life tale, the work of BBC Scotland, Creative Scotland and Magic B Films. The Filmhouse screenings are part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.