The Wildest Dream


Written by Miguel Cullen
20 Monday 20th September 2010

The Wildest Dream: Conquest of Everest tells story of George Mallory, the feckless explorer who might actually have conquered Everest in an ascent that cost him and his companion’s life a full 29 years before Hillary and Tenzing’s championed ‘virgin climb’ in 1953. 

A devilish intrigue of missing clues, last sightings, enigmatic final words and perhaps altitude-inspired theory all conspire to create a plot worthy of a Côte d'Azur Poirot potboiler – Mallory’s partial remains were discovered minus the photo of his beloved wife Ruth, a photograph of whom he had pledged, with a romanticism sadly lacking in today’s world, to place at the summit. Today such an intrepid’s wife could perhaps expect a picture message. BBM, to save on roaming charges.
Conjecture has it then, that Mallory, dressed in gabardine and hobnail boots, made the final summit with his fellow climber Sandy Irvine. The director is Anthony Geffen, the prolific Emmy-award winner who specialises in documentaries. He has used Liam Neeson as narrator again here, but it could be judged that budget would have been better reserved for a more remarkable voice – Alan Rickman’s talents are sadly underused as the voice for the marginal Noel Odell.
As portraits go, Mallory’s could potentially have been one of nuance, the selfish expeditioner, causing havoc at home with his macho world-beating quests; however it seems Geffen gets caught up in a stylized picture of an era, which is all breathy remonstrations from an adoring Ruth, as the sunlight dies over a morocco-lain desk and amber ringlets somewhere in Cheshire. Ruth is voiced by another victim of alpine disaster, Natasha Richardson, while Mallory himself is voiced by Ralph Fiennes.
There is an interesting account of Mallory’s visit to a Sherpa gompa [monastery] to be blessed by the attendant priest only to be greeted by foretellings of doom. A local drawing of the time depicts the god of the mountain disembowelling a western adventurer as Sherpas look on.
A considerable weakness of the film is the real, contemporary re-enactment of what was done 86 years ago and the slightly half-arsed way it is carried out. The climbers getting changed half way through the ascent to throw on the old-school goggles and fetching Biggles hats for a while looks tokenistic and lame; and at worst, a vaudeville parody of Mallory’s brave feat.

All in all, a full and moving job in parallel reading, which could do with a touch more nuance and personality to make it into a transcending work.    

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