“Too late for chips?” the 83-year-old Edie (Sheila Hancock) asks her cook in a fast food restaurant. “Never too late for you, Edie,” he replies in what becomes a lightbulb moment for her.
This is a sweet little film about a self-professed ‘geriatric’ trying to roll back the years. It’s “never too late” for anyone who doesn’t want to go gentle into the good night. “I shall wear purple,” as the poem says. So the woman who was on the verge of signing herself into a nursing home, who’s spent the last 30 years nursing a husband who never allowed her to be the ‘wild child’ she once was, decides to pursue a lifelong dream of climbing a mountain in Inverness.
I’m normally leery of these ‘I can do it!’ films featuring feisty people of a certain age. All too often they wear their feelgood-ness on their sleeve. This does too for a while. In the early scenes the message is too telegraphed. It becomes more nuanced when Edie starts to develop a relationship with Jonny (Kevin Guthrie), a kindly soul who runs the camping shop where she gets her equipment.
Jonny is short of cash. He offers to put Edie through her paces for a fee before the big climb. Then they start to bond and you think: it’s going to be one of those schmaltzy films where Edie wills her money to the cash-strapped Good Samaritan to help him on his way.
Director Simon Hunter doesn’t handcuff himself with timeworn clichés like this. The only fault of the film is the manner in which Edie appears so sprightly early on. It makes you wonder why she ever went within 100 miles of a nursing home.
In the later scenes she shows her infirmities more. She’s also confronted with that other enemy of the elderly – ageism – in some of Jonny’s friends. We now realise this is no Driving Miss Daisy style fairytale where you might expect to see Maggie Smith or Julie Walters disposing of their zimmer frames to cavort around pubs to the sound of rock music.
No, it’s a gritty exploration of the problems of those who try something youthful only to realise they’re probably not able for it anymore.
“Climb every mountain!” exhorted Julie Andrews’ Mother Superior in The Sound of Music when she played a postulant in that film. Edie climbs just one but her conquest of it is cathartic. It’s her ‘Neil Armstrong’ moment. A small step for a woman, a giant leap for elderly people.
Her indomitable spirit is well captured by Hancock – John Thaw’s widow – a “cranky old cow” who replaces this with her tender side.
She develops a childlike sense of wonder as her irascibility disappears under Jonny’s good graces. This is a 3D woman trying to make up for three decades of unfulfilment with her dream climb. There’s a lesson there for all of us.