The third cousin (once removed) of the Fiennes acting family (Ralph, Joseph, and three others), Sir Ranulph Fiennes (full name: Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes) has lived a life that would make most overachievers blush and cause others to reconsider their own bucket lists.
He was the first person to circumnavigate the globe, not (the relatively easier) east to west, but north to south, while crossing both polar ice caps in the process.
He, with Mike Stroud, a physician who accompanied him in a vehicle for safety and possible medical reasons, were the first to cross the entire continent of Antarctica and did so over the course of a mere 92 days.
At the age of 65, he climbed Mount Everest, becoming the oldest British person to ever do so.
At the age of 59, he ran seven marathons—in seven consecutive days—on seven continents.
He served eight years in the SAS (Special Air Service), a covert branch of the British Army, as a demolitions expert, and in 1968 helped defeat a Yemeni communist insurgence in Oman.
Not quite as impressive: He was on the short list to replace Sean Connery as James Bond and has written 24 fiction and nonfiction books.
Every one of these accomplishments is worthy of its own stand-alone feature, and it is to the credit of director Matthew Dyas that the 113-minute-long documentary “Explorer” goes by in a flash. There’s not an ounce of fat in the entire film. Dyas, along with editors Ben Stark and Charlie Hawryliw, doesn’t include a single unneeded frame.
Having previously collaborated with Fiennes on the overlooked 2019 docuseries “Fiennes: Return to the Nile,” Dyas has what appears to be unlimited access to his subject. Although the bulk (about 70 percent) of the film is culled from the usual archival footage, stills, newsreels, and the like, the remainder is recently shot and most of it is just Fiennes discussing, while regularly downplaying, his many astonishing accomplishments.
Born in 1944 four months after his namesake father was killed in World War II, Fiennes, his three older sisters, and their mother relocated to South Africa to live with his grandmother, described here as “difficult.” He admits, with a certain wistful air, that he was spoiled by the females in his early life, something that could turn many men into sissies, but it had the exact opposite effect on him.
A decade later, when he returned to England at the age of 12, Fiennes met Virginia “Ginny” Pepper, whom he would eventually marry in 1970. Theirs was a unique relationship. It was a rarity, even back then, for childhood sweethearts to wed. And not only did they remain together until her death from cancer in 2004, but she was his professional partner as well.
It was she who managed the logistics of the three year-long global treks, and Fiennes lavishes relentless praise upon her, stating that the mission could not have succeeded without Ginny at the helm while operating out of their home base. Fiennes makes it clear: Ginny wasn’t a “woman behind the man,” but rather side-by-side the man as a team. Watching them go from preteens to senior citizens is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
A further example of the impeccable character and modest grace of Fiennes takes place with the discussion of his “baronetcy.” Largely a ceremonial and useless title bestowed by the Crown, it is hereditary, and upon his birth, Fiennes became the 3rd Baronet of Banbury, thus making him a knight.
Fiennes bristles at being referred to as “sir,” claiming that being rewarded for inheriting a title or award for simply being born is meaningless, and that the only people who should receive such honors should do so by earning it with merit.
Fiennes was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993 for “human endeavor and for charitable services.” His various expeditions also raised 14 million pounds ($16,440,000) for various charities up to that point and, since then, another 5 million pounds ($5,870,000).
What is most surprising about Fiennes was in hearing his reasons for becoming an explorer in the first place. Far too frequently, when questioned why they climb mountains or engage in equally dangerous activities, most adventurers and thrill-seekers respond with the tired and clichéd “because it’s there.”
Although born a “royal,” Fiennes didn’t enter the world wealthy. He didn’t participate in these many events out of curiosity or some sort of inner drive, but simply for revenue. It was his chosen profession. He wasn’t an eccentric millionaire wanting to prove this, that, or the other. He did it to make ends meet.
For instance, during the four-year buildup to the “around the world” expedition, Fiennes and Ginny amassed $27 million from close to 650 sponsors, mostly companies that manufacture goods and equipment he would use during his trip. It’s not all that different from the practice of businesses that pay race car drivers to wear logo patches on their hats and jumpsuits and slap decals on their vehicles.
Late in the film, Fiennes presents questions that many of us ask ourselves daily (if not more frequently) regarding the mounting “political correctness” verbiage that has infested our vernacular. He queries his detractors who accuse him of “white privilege,” and the exact meaning and intent of being “woke.”
The only “privilege” Fiennes had was being born with great intellect, superior athletic skills, and an uncanny ability to conquer the elements. He is also thoroughly lacking vanity or hubris.
You know that guy: the salt-and-pepper-haired dude hawking “Dos Equis” beer on TV, online, and in thousands of subsequent memes? The one who is touted as being “The Most Interesting Man in the World?” He can’t hold a candle to Ranulph Fiennes.
Director: Matthew Dyas
Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2022
Rating: 5 out of 5