Finding Michael review – reality TV star sets off on haunting high-altitude mission | Television & radio

On May 13, 1999, Michael Matthews set a new record, becoming the youngest British mountaineer to reach the summit Mount Everest. He was 22 years old. But in the hours that immediately followed, during his descent, he disappeared. His body has never been found.

In Finding Michael, his younger brother, reality TV star Spencer Matthews, embarks on a very personal mission to locate his brother’s body and bring him home to rest, over 20 years later. As Michael disappeared over 8,000 meters, in what is known as the “death zone”, any search and recovery mission would be horribly risky, and one of the highest ever undertaken.

In 2017, the Matthews family received a photograph of a body on Everest that appeared to be wearing the same color summit suit that Michael wore when he disappeared. The photograph left the germ of an idea in Spencer’s mind and made him think that they might still be able to find his brother’s body. He discussed it with his mother, sister and wife, who all agreed that if possible, they should try to bring Michael home.

The program begins as a detective story. The photograph – whose provenance is unclear – was taken remotely, and it is not immediately clear who the body is in the snow. Spencer is going to meet some of his brother’s old climbing friends, to find out what he can on how to identify Michael and how best to inform the experts who are willing to go to the death zone and look for him. . In doing so, he begins another journey, learning more about the brother who died when Spencer was only 10 years old.

At times, it turns into an adventure for the boys, with a sweeping orchestral soundtrack and expansive cinematic shots of the mountain range. Before Spencer heads to Nepal, in the brief window when it’s possible to attempt Everest each year, he’ll talk to his old friend, Bear Grylls. The pair met when the explorer gave a lecture at Spencer’s school about conquering Everest, and Spencer spoke about his big brother’s achievement. Grylls is well aware of the risks and cautions Spencer about his own ambitions to get involved, pointing out that an average of seven people a year die trying to climb the mountain.

Complex undertaking… the team prepares in Finding Michael. Picture: Disney+

Still, Spencer wants to at least get to base camp, where he can help coordinate the mission. Parts of this movie look great even in the face of the most hostile environments. The eight-day trek to base camp is done on foot, to accustom climbers to the higher altitude and thinner air. That’s wonderful. What this film does with it is even more beautiful. Spencer sees footage of her brother’s hike, filmed on a camcorder. Seeing them walk through the exact same places, with the images placed side by side, is incredibly moving, and even more so when Spencer reveals he’s never seen any recordings of his brother before.

Two strong threads connect the program. It brings Michael to life by piecing who he was, through friends and family who remember him, and through photographs and video, including a haunting film of his last night alive. And it’s an eye-opening look at grief – especially the grief felt by those left behind when someone dies so young. Spencer admits he didn’t freely express his emotions as a child. Even now, he doesn’t seem to know what to make of his feelings about it all; he seems genuinely surprised at the realization that raising the possibility of hoping he might find Michael’s body could upset his family if he doesn’t succeed.

Apart from the risks to the climbers involved in recovering a body from such a dangerous part of the mountain, it is clearly an extremely expensive and complex undertaking, and it only happens because of the notoriety of spencer. That this is exceptional is never clearer than later in the film, when the idea that there might only be one body to be found up there is disproved. It reminds us of the scale of the human losses, and to see it so clearly is shocking.

skip newsletter promotion

Finding Michael does its best to acknowledge this, and what’s going on, you suspect, is more complicated than this moving film originally intended to explore.

Finding Michael is now on Disney+

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top