It may sound a strange thing to say in a creative medium fit-to-bursting with stories of redemption and hope but there are precious few authentic feel-good tales in modern cinema.
Too often legitimately affecting narratives are over-burnished or emotionally overwrought to such a degree that they remain moving but to a degree that feels forced or overdone; it still makes an impact but the effect is like some sort of emotional mist that settles on you, creates the desired effect and this vanishes as if it was never there at all.
Edie, directed with meditative insight by Simon Hunter to a gorgeously-nuanced screenplay by Elizabeth O’Halloran, neatly avoids this melodramatic pitfall, eschewing the easy markers of its more obviously-telegraphed cinematic counterparts for a story that feels rich, raw and genuinely moving.
From the outset, when we meet 80-something Edie (Sheila Hancock in a mesmerisingly good performance), we’re not treated to some idyll of old age.
Edie is a woman who has led a hard, largely-unfulfilling life spending 30 years until his recent death caring for her stroke-affected husband George who, prior to that, was emotionally-abusive to a social-ostracising degree, shutting people like her beloved father, out of her life.
A strong believer in doing your duty, Edie, who is now a cranky old lady whose relationship with her domineering daughter Nancy (Wendy Morgan) is fractious at best, poured her innermost thoughts into a diary where she bemoans her lack of freedom, love and her loss of all the hopes, dreams, and importantly for this film, interests she had as a much younger woman.
When her daughter, who was shielded by Edie from the true extent of her father’s abuse and who is attempting to have her mother moved into a retirement home called Ivy Manor, finds the diary, the two have a falling out, and in the messy aftermath, Edie decides it’s high time she fulfilled an unofficial pact with her father who suggested via a long-treasured postcard that they climb Mt Suilven in the remote northern Scottish Highlands together.
It’s a momentous undertaking for anyone with the imposing mountain rising almost vertically from the surrounding countryside of heather, lochs and bog, but for a woman in her ’80s it must feel damn near impossible.
Still, Edie pays none of this any heed, impelled by a crushing and spontaneously-generated sense that life has passed her by and that she must do something to make up, even in a small way, for everything she’s lost.
So she sets out for Scotland in a bid to prove to herself, if no one else, that she hasn’t left it too late, a rash decision born of many years of simmering discontentment that in the wake of her husband’s death is finally allowed to find some expression.
It almost goes off the rails, quite literally, at the train station in Inverness when, in one of those happenstance moments that only takes place in movies but works nicely as an inspirational story meet-cute of sorts, Edie is run into by Jonny (Kevin Guthrie) and his girlfriend Fiona (Amy Manson) with the latter rushing to submit a loan proposal in person to expand their hiking business.
While Edie brushes off Jonny’s insistence that he make up for running into her by helping her in any way he can, they’re inevitably drawn together by this and a number of other engineered moments, with one of the unlikeliest of odd couple friendships emerging, a relationship that proves pivotal in Edie’s quest to reach the top of the mountain.
What makes Edie such a gentle, pleasing joy, aside from the lushly-contemplative cinematography by August Jakobsson that is alternately serene and wildly violent as the narrative demands, is the way it presents Edie’s sense of lostness as a real and near-immutable thing.
One trip up the mountain, nor even the idea of undertaking the kind of hike that would people many years younger than Edie, is not presented as the panacea to her ills, with her woundedness and sense of loss graphically apparent.
By treating her pain as real and not a briefly-experienced hurdle to be dispensed with once surmounted, her desperate need to go up the mountain regardless of weather or preparedness, feel all the more real and important; it’s not some narrative convenience to speed us onto a happy ever after ending but rather an existential necessity, something Edie has to do, which makes the ending of the film that much more meaningful and heartfelt.
Another appealing aspect of this warmly-grounded film is the strength and authentic connection between Edie and Jonny.
What begins accidentally and without any thought of real, meaningful connection, soon becomes a friendship that comes to unexpectedly mean a great deal to both of them.
Edie doesn’t suddenly transform into a fully-healed woman but she does soften as she returns to the “wild child” of her youth, and Jonny’s life, rife with uncertainty about his future with Fiona, isn’t suddenly, magically sorted, but the special bond they form ends up playing a transformational role in both their lives.
Unlike other lighter inspirational films which treat the dark parts of life as a sealed-off section that can hurt you no more now the good times have arrived, Edie remains fully aware that all times that though some healing is taking place and life has been redeemed somewhat, that that doesn’t mean all her and Jonny’s troubles are behind them.
That doesn’t mean the movie demeans the extent of Edie’s triumph over time and hopelessness which is rightly celebrated but neither does it pretend that it fixes everything, leaving us with a hopeful ending that feels real and possible.
Balancing groundedness and inspiration can be tricky but Hunter manages it with aplomb, assisted by Hancock’s grippingly-measure performance which never overplayed or underplayed but always utterly, affectingly mesmeringly impacting.
Edie is that rare breed among British inspirational films – it rightly holds aloft a lifting in the human spirit, a conquering of old fears and time-bolstered inertia, while resolutely staying true to the fact that life can take a great deal without giving much back and that rectifying that loss comes at a great cost.
The thing is that Edie makes all that effort, and it is considerable in this case, feel worthwhile and achievable, a quietly joyous film that reaffirms that for all the pain, all the hardship and the lost years, that it is never too late get back your sense of life and dreams regained.