After losing her disabled and formerly controlling husband, Edie (Sheila Hancock), now in her 80s and increasingly being treated as frail and incompetent by her daughter, decides on a whim to fulfil her long-neglected dream of climbing Scotland’s Mount Suilven. Edie doesn’t waste much time on preamble. It establishes its protagonist’s situation quickly and succinctly, and sets her straight off on her journey. On the way, Edie falls in with Jonny (Kevin Guthrie), literally by accident, and he is in turns clumsily kind, manipulative, and hugely supportive, as she undertakes what amounts to a pilgrimage, and a search for her own worth.
Perhaps surprisingly, the eponymous Edie is not an immediately likeable character, despite the sympathy that her situation engenders. She comes off as bitter, resentful, and a little rude, but Sheila Hancock also layers in elements of fearfulness and regret that help explain and mitigate these less attractive qualities. It would have been all too easy to make Edie a sweet little old lady, but this would have been unrealistic. There are glimpses, but it takes time for Edie to reveal anything of her life’s difficulties, and even then she is rather tight-lipped about it. The film hints at, but largely glosses over, the possible magnitude of her former domestic situation, and shows only the resultant human being, who is not, in all honesty, a pretty sight. And why should she be? How could she be?
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Edie, ultimately, seems to take responsibility for her own unhappiness, but whether it is genuinely down to her own poor choices, or to a situation that was entirely out of her control, is not really addressed. Whether or not her self-blame is justified is not the point here: the point is that she has decided to take control of her life today. She might be lacking a smile, but she has determination, even if it falters sometimes.
As a story, Edie is engaging throughout, and it is enjoyable to watch the interplay between Hancock and Guthrie. Edie has the best of intentions. It shows the pain of unfulfillment, the recognition of one’s own vulnerabilities, and the fear in being out of one’s depth. And it shows the grit and tears required to keep going anyway. It has something to say about attitudes towards ageing, making one question Edie’s motives and mental capacity in undertaking her expedition, whilst simultaneously wanting to champion her making her own decisions, regardless of outcome. It is gently comedic, although, thankfully, rarely at Edie’s expense. It has some beautiful location scenery (Sheila Hancock, the same age as her character, actually had to make the climb up Mount Suilven, albeit with a supporting film crew), and a possibly mythic scene that lifts the story from the merely physical to the realm of psychological.
Available on DVD from 29th October, the special features for Edie are negligible. ‘To Climb a Mountain’ is a short look at the long climb that cast and crew undertook in tackling Mount Suilven. And ‘Recording the Music Score’ is the briefest of glimpses at the live orchestra, set over images from the film.
In the all too often youth and glamour obsessed film industry, it is hugely pleasing to see a well-crafted movie featuring an older female lead. Overall, Edie is enjoyable, inspiring, and thought-provoking. And yet it also feels as though it is slightly lacking in something, as if it could have been a little more tightly scripted, a little more neatly edited, and pushed for a little more depth from its actors. But there is still much to recommend about Edie, and as a story of empowerment and overcoming adversity, there is no doubt that many will find it incredibly moving.