The Hermit of Treig
Lizzie Mackenzie's compassionate documentary The Hermit of Treig follows an ageing hermit whose declining health may force him to leave the remote wilderness he called home for four decades
The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas famously wrote, 'Do not go gentle into that good night.' Ken Smith, the focus of the new documentary The Hermit of Treig, prefers, “If you’re walking, and you feel tired, you must not stop.” It may be more practical than Thomas’s advice, but Smith’s mantra conveys a similar aura of strength and stubbornness, qualities that suffuse this portrait of a man determined to live and die on his own terms.
Having chosen to live alone in an area of Scotland with no roads, houses or electricity, Ken’s failing health forces him to choose between his treasured independence and the safety of civilisation. It would be easy, in these times of institutional crisis, to make a film about the failure of elderly care, but director Lizzie Mackenzie is more interested in letting the audience get to know an extraordinary individual. It’s a pleasure to spend time in Ken’s company, his optimism and warmth shining through his bedraggled appearance. He may prefer a life of solitude, but his humility and sense of humour make him an ideal travelling companion.
Yet Mackenzie unveils a real sadness beneath Ken's self-deprecating charm, a loneliness that comes not from his self-inflicted isolation but the loss of family and friends, adding depth to what could have been a relatively straightforward story. Fortunately, that sadness never stops Ken from living his life to the fullest. In bringing his story to a wider audience, Mackenzie has found a little light in Thomas’ dark night.
Streaming from Tue 8 to Fri 11 Mar via Glasgow Film Festival at Home; released in UK cinemas 25 Mar by Cosmic Cat; certificate TBC