The climb, The Long Hope Route, is perhaps the ultimate British trad experience. It's long, it's committing, it's off the wall, it's historic and at the same time it's modern. The cliff and the route are hugely inspiring, atmospheric, exciting, gripping, and I would guess if you actually climb it, the experience is quite emotionally moving.
The same can be said of Paul Diffley's film of the route - 'The Long Hope'.
It's simply one of the best climbing films I've seen.
The Long Hope is the story of Britain's hardest sea cliff route, The Long Hope Route, on St. John's Head, Hoy. This particular story has three parts, starting with Ed Drummond and Oliver Hill's first ascent of the route in 1970, followed by John Arran and Dave Turnbull's ascent of the route (with a small variation) in 1997 and culminating in the first full free ascent of the direct line by Dave MacLeod in 2011.
Whilst the film does flow in chronological order in the main, it focusses on Dave MacLeod's ascent and his build up to the climb. MacLeod's efforts are often interspersed with flashbacks to Drummond's first ascent, and with great effect.
The character of the route and cliff really show through in the film, both visually from the stunning video footage and through the readings from Drummond's first ascent journal, which bring vivid and engaging flavours to the modern footage and black white historical photographs.
Drummond, a professional poet, now in his late sixties and suffering from Parkinson's disease, revisits the cliff in the film, many years after his ground-breaking first ascent, and his battle with the simple walk-in, and his marvel at how he ever managed to climb such a face, is genuinely touching and never feels histrionic.
MacLeod really comes of age in this film too, well positioned at the very top of the UK's pile of climbers, he is used to taking on these huge headpoint challenges, light years above what most other climbers are doing, and yet you can see through his passion and excitement that his drive has not been dampened by the incessant Scottish weather. That he isn't ticking a sponsors box. MacLeod is out there, strapped to a huge cliff in the pouring rain, on his own, scrubbing lichen in the freezing cold, and he flippin loves it. He comes across as a man happy with his lot, at ease in his environment (an environment in which most people would curl up and cry) and, after several years in the limelight, he seems at ease in front of the camera.
The two characters, Drummond and MacLeod, are in some ways so different, Drummond the artist, MacLeod the athlete, that they compliment each other wonderfully, allowing Paul Diffley to explore many themes with his film that would have had much less impact if either character had been missing.
The pacing of the film is good; gentle footage leads the viewer nicely through the historical journey of the route at the same time as it shows MacLeod's three year dedication to cleaning, training and preparing for the big ascent. Just when you start to drift the pace picks up, the music kicks in and it's time to climb. It's obvious that this route is not a done deal, there's no certain outcome and the suspense is real when Dave MacLeod and Andy Turner finally set off up that towering cliff for the big push. It gives a very 'real' feeling to the film and it's easy to engage with that feeling of apprehension, of the unknown. That feeling we all have when we step off the ground to face one of the hardest routes of our lives.
Can Dave MacLeod really climb an E10 pitch after hundreds of metres of extreme climbing? Yes he can, but only just...
The Long Hope - Info Box
Title: The Long Hope, 2011
Directed by Paul Diffley
Music by Chair
Starring Dave MacLeod, Ed Drummond, Andy Turner and others
Although the filming of the actual ascent has occasional camera shake, it is captured well, and the sheer magnitude of the ascent bursts out of the screen. Andy Turner is camera gold, his gurning, jokes and terror contrasting nicely with Dave's solid determination to get the job done.
MacLeod climbs brilliantly. The route looks amazing. The situation mind-bending. I want to go there, and I want to go NOW!
The Long Hope is a superb production, which has a real story, magnificent climbing, great characters, amazing locations, stunning cinematography, engaging interviews, emotionally charged reflections, professional editing and above all a happy and heart-warming ending. How climbing films should be done.