I am officially old.
Because today was a first experience of the Odeon’s Silver Cinema deal. Great recent movies available only to the over-55s, and for the scarcely believable price of £3. Throw in a cup of coffee, a few biscuits and a free pair of dentures, and why would you want to spend a couple of hours on a hypothermic Thursday morning in January anywhere else?
I dragged Gill along too. Technically, she doesn’t qualify. She’s 53. Nearly 54 though, which is very nearly 55, right? OK, so she looks more like 43….but with a walking stick and a fake driving licence, we got in. And we climbed Kilimanjaro together, so I couldn’t leave her behind when we were going to Everest, could I?
The experience of summiting (yes, I know it’s not really a proper verb, but it just sounds so impressive) Kilimanjaro was brutal enough. But if I ever harboured thoughts of attempting to climb the world’s highest peak, this movie has dispelled them.
Everest is based on the true story of an ascent by different groups of climbers in 1996. But during the fateful summit attempt on 10th May, nature unleashed one of the most extreme snowstorms ever experienced on the mountain, with inevitable consequences for mere humans.
The story is told like an old-fashioned disaster movie. The main strand focuses on Rob Hall (played by Jason Clarke), an experienced Kiwi leading his Adventure Consultants team and clients. In the climbing group, paying an eye-watering $65,000 each to play poker with death, are Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori) and Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), amongst others.
Scott Fischer (a very beardy and heavy-drinking Jake Gyllenhall) leads a more maverick team of his own, appropriately named Mountain Madness, but the two groups unite for the summit attempt.
Back at base camp, Helen Wilton (Emily Watson) plays the Adventure Consultants support role. She also provides a convenient communication and narrative link between the climbers and their humanising back-story partners.
In New Zealand, Rob’s wife Jan (Keira Knightley) is expecting their first child, and Peach (Robin Wright) is Beck’s feisty wife back in Texas.
But the real star of the movie is the mountain. Aerial shots make you gasp at the smallness of the climbers as they begin the final, fateful ascent. And, in the eye of the storm, Everest wreaks a terrible toll.
A couple of journalists survive, including Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly). He wrote a controversial book himself about the climb – Into Thin Air – which I just have to read myself now for a contrary view.
In one of the camps shortly before the fateful summit attempt, he apologises for having to ask the inevitable question: why are you doing it?
Beck has already said he gets depressed at home in Texas, away from mountains.
Doug, a simple man who delivers the mail at home in the US, has failed before and says it’s because he can. Not to try again would just be wrong.
Yasuko, a Japanese climber in her late 40s, needs to climb Everest to complete the ultimate mountaineers’ quest: summiting the 7 highest peaks of the 7 continents.
This is an emotional film to watch, as all well-told disaster movies should be. It’s not without its faults, but it kept a bunch of Guildford geriatrics very quiet for a couple of hours, enthralled by the majesty of nature and the vulnerability of man.
I felt really old after the final credits had rolled.