The incredible story of two world-class climbers, both lives claimed by the mountains where their bodies remain to this day. And the strongest and saddest connection between the pair? Flesh and blood. The Last Mountain follows the life and death of Alison Hargreaves and her son Tom Ballard, whilst filmmaker and family friend Chris Terrill tracks the footsteps of bereaved husband and father, Jim and daughter and sister, Kate. Sometimes, the sky really is the limit.
The bodies of Alison and Tom were found 24 years apart, and just 100 miles away from each other in a devastatingly coincidental turn of events. Terrill combines fuzzy nineties footage of the family at various base camps, with archival news reporting on Alison’s death and her son’s latter rise to mountaineering greatness, pointing to the unavoidable reality that Tom was always going to follow in his mother’s incredible footsteps, in this case to a fatal extent.
It is Terrill’s closeness to the family which makes the film so engaging – not to mention emotional – and according to The Telegraph’s Anita Singh, it’s also this closeness “which means the documentary was not intrusive but did cover some intensely private moments”. The Guardian’s Chitra Ramaswamy seconds this, describing the film as “intimate but never heavy-handed”, with a “purity and simplicity that is somehow in keeping with the philosophy of its subjects. It’s a film about the inarticulacy of grief and the magnetic pull of the mountains”.
And somehow, whilst the shadow of Kate and Tom’s deaths looms in the background of each frame, the mountains’ magnetism is also felt by the viewer. As Ramaswamy points out, Terrill “doesn’t explore the grim commercialisation of Everest, or the colonial history”, nor does he “touch on the media frenzy that followed Hargreaves’ death”. It steers clear of pessimism, instead following Kate’s own teary realisation that her mother and brother both died doing what they loved most.
Documentaries don’t get more heartbreaking, or beautiful than this.
First shown September 2021.