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The Great Journey
Shield-327 January 2002
Every time I watch "Mountains of the Moon," I grow more and more fascinated by it. An epic drama and adventure, an exploration of what makes a hero and the value of friendship... this movie is a marvel.

I barely know where to begin. The acting is exceptional, of course. Patrick Bergin really makes Captain Richard Francis Burton come alive, so much so that I started reading up on Burton on my own after seeing the movie. His Burton is a man of great courage and insatiable curiosity, but also of great pride (the film only hints at Burton's infamous sexual escapades). Iain Glen brings great depth to John Hanning Speke, a man who desires greatness but cannot escape his fundamental weakness. It would have been so easy to make these two characters into square-jawed cartoons or place them in the easy Great Hero / Cowardly Villain mold, but director Bob Rafaelson, the script, and the actors wisely give us three-dimensional real people.

While I was watching this movie, I felt like I was actually transported to Africa in the 1850s, when the first explorers ventured into what was truly the Dark Continent. You see Burton and Speke's expedition endure weather, illness, injury, and attacks by hostile tribesmen, bringing home the reality of how dangerous these expeditions really were. By the time the film ended, I felt I had been to Africa itself.

If you want to see a real epic and a fine, exciting film, this is the one to see.
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A Great, True Tale of Adventure
Big O-78 November 1999
Capt. Sir Richard Francis Burton and his mate, John Hanning Speke's travels to find the source of the Nile, and travails to claim the rigth to say that either of these two gentlemen adventurers discovered the source of the Nile makes for one of the biggest and best EPIC adventure films in recent memory. The performances from Patrick Bergin (better known for PATRIOT GAMES and SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY), and Ian Glen (last seen on Broadway opposite Nicole Kidman in THE BLUE ROOM), turn in career-making perfomances as the two polar opposites who race to find the glory at the end of finding the source of the Nile. Bob Rafaelson, the man behind the camera, does not feel the need to spare the audience of any graphic details from the expeditions (including spearings, native sex, castrations, and ugly political maneuvering), and in the end, this is the best way to go since sparing us would have cheated us. Nor does he feel the need to spare us from any ticks in the characters themselves (Burton's blatant drinking and womanizing) and their questions (Is Speke gay? Who does end up with the bigger ego?). But the film's greatest achievements are:

1 - It makes you understand why these two gentlemen lived the lives they lived.

2- It makes you want to read more about them.

3- It really does make you feel like you too, got to go to see the Mountains of The Moon.
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What Price Glory?
theowinthrop27 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This is the only movie, unless one recalls Spencer Tracy and Sir Cedric Hardwick in STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE, that deals with the "Golden Age" of European exploration in Africa. It began in 1769 when James Bruce went to Ethiopia and did a remarkable job finding the source of the Blue Nile, and doing yeoman work on the anthropology of the Ethiopian people. Then there was the work of Mungo Park and the River Niger (until his death in 1806) and there were naval expeditions up the Congo (in 1819), and various internal expeditions. By far the greatest African explorer would be David Livingston, a missionary who captured the hearts of Victorian Britain. Most of Livingston's work involved Lake Nyasa, but he tried to also solve the greatest African (possibly global) geographic question: the source of the Nile River.

In the 1850s two British officers from India, Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke, mounted two expeditions into the interior of Africa from the island of Zanzibar. Burton was already a famous man - the first Christian to travel to Mecca and Medina. He was also a remarkable linguist. But Burton was a moody person, who could be insulting. Speke was avid to go on both journeys, but he lacked Burton's driving curiosity about the people of the continent of Africa. Speke also was extraordinarily ambitious, and wanted to find the source of the Nile. So did Burton, but he felt there was more to life than just settling a map problem.

This film deals with what turned these two friends into enemies, and how a remarkable series of explorations,where Burton and Speke traveled together,and where Speke led his own exploration with James Grant, settled the mystery - but still left matters into greater confusion. On the second Burton - Speke journey, they both saw a large lake. Burton, with typical sense, named it Tanganyika, after the African languages he studied. But Burton became ill and was unable to continue circumnavigating this lake. Speke, meanwhile, had heard of another body of water to the north (Burton believed it was part of Tanganyika). Speke went on alone and saw this huge inland sea. He was convinced that he found the real source of the Nile but his proof was insufficient to Burton.

Speke took advantage of Burton's illness to get back to England first, publish his findings only, and get official support from Sir Roderick Murchison and the Royal Society for his own expedition. He and Grant returned to Africa, just as Burton came home - to find himself being jeered at as having been lying on a cot while Speke was busy finding the source of the Nile.

Speke came back with more details about his great discovery. He named this magnificent lake (the largest in the world) Lake Victoria. But his ego caused him to keep Grant from accompanying him on the final portion of this journey (wherein he circled the lake, and found the point it led to the Nile - which he called the Murchison Falls after the head of the Royal Society). So when he returned to England with his facts, Grant couldn't corroborate them.

Burton and his friends began showing that some of Speke's observations and facts were odd to say the least (he had the Nile running up a mountain for ten miles). Soon a debate was arranged between Burton and Speke - a debate that Speke dreaded. Burton happened to be a very gifted writer and speaker and Speke was not.

The debate was to occur at Bath in September 1864. It never occurred. As this film shows, Speke was killed in a hunting accident the day of the debate - whether it was a real accident or suicide has never been settled. Speke's friends blamed Burton, who was called a murderer by some of them. Burton never made a public comment again about the incident.

It would not be until the late 1870s when Livingston's successor in Central Africa, Henry Morton Stanley, proved that Lake Victoria was the source of the Nile, and that Burton's Lake Tangayika was the source of the Congo.

The film faithfully tells the tragic tale of how a great explorer was destroyed by his ambition, and how a close friendship was destroyed by a rivalry spurred on by a busy-body - in this case a man who was jealous of both Burton and Speke, Laurence Oliphant. Oliphant did not care who got injured. He is, in many ways, the real villain in this tragedy.
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This is the 19th century story of two Bristish explorers efforts to discover the source of the Nile River which has baffled geographers since Ptolomey.
Longjohnbob13 February 2007
I love this film though it is not at all historically accurate. Still, it is a wonderful adventure story. In 19th century Britan, geographers knew very little about Africa least of all the source of the Nile River that flowed through Egypt. Sir Richard Burton and Albert Speke undertook two expeditions to find the source of the river, risking life and limb as they combat hostile tribesmen, disease, depression, and a fierce climate. Eventually their friendship comes to an end. The scene of the escaped slave being mercy-killed by Burton never occurred; that is Hollywood. Burton also did not translate the ASrabian Knights or the Karma Sutra till many years later after his career as an African explorer ended. The film also does not delve very much into why British society was so opposed to Burton. His marriage to Isabel was a Catholic marriage--she was from a prominent Catholic family and there had been anti Catholic riots at the time of this movie--in fact they did not meet in England. Her family had fled because of the riots. I only wish Burtons real story would someday make it into film.
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One of the best movies no one has ever seen
The Continental Op20 September 1999
Warning: Spoilers
"Mountains of the Moon" is one of my all time favorites. I saw it first when it came out in theaters and watch it three or four times every year after that. It is the true story of Richard Francis Burton and John Henning Speke, two British explorers , once were great friends and how they allowed pride and envy to destroy their relationship. The focus of the film centers around Burton (Patrick Bergin) and Speke's (Iain Glenn) quest to find the source of the Nile river in Central Africa. In the process of the journey Burton becomes quite ill and Speke goes on ahead. It is then when Speke discovers a lake and declares it as the source they have been searching for. When they return to England, however, Burton is not convinced by Speke's data and becomes convinced that a larger lake has to be the true source. Burton decides to go back, without Speke. This second expedition enrages Speke, who becomes one of Burton's bitterest rivals and critics. Also thrown into this volatile mix is Burton's devoted, strong-willed wife Isabelle (Fiona Shaw)who will stop at nothing to protect her husband's reputation.It's the complex, very human relationships of this film which makes "Mountains of the Moon" stand out from other period pieces. This film has everything: adventure, romance, scope, and a great performance by Patrick Bergin, playing a true-life swashbuckler whose life could be material for several screen epics. This film is the Anti-"Titanic", a true epic that doesn't replace character and humanity for mindless eye-candy and spectacle. James Cameron should have screened this film before he started his God-awful "Titanic" script. See it. You won't be disappointed.
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Sophisticated epic story telling with depth and intelligence
dknow312 June 2005
It was my good fortune to see MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON several times in its original theatrical release at New York's Ziegfeld Theatre in 1990. An article in the New York Times months earlier had alerted me to the possibility that this was my kind of movie. That easily proved to be true. MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON promptly became a great personal favorite, leading me to read two biographies of Sir Richard Francis Burton.

When MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON was originally released on DVD on the Pioneer label I bought it immediately. Once again, I was lucky because the Pioneer release was in the original 1:85 theatrical ratio. The Pioneer release was withdrawn and this title was subsequently reissued on DVD on a different label. Regrettably it was in a full screen pan and scan version that spoiled this film's excellent visual compositions.

MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON is superbly directed by Bob Rafelson. Although known as an excellent director of contemporary material, there is nothing in his previous body of work to prepare you for Rafelson's outstanding achievement in a period epic. It is uniformly well acted and technical credits are on a very high level. This overlooked classic deserves to be restored to it correct technical specifications on DVD. Hopefully, Bob Rafelson could do a commentary. Criterion Collection, are you listening?

If you have not had the great good fortune to see this film theatrically, then let me urge you to seek out the Pioneer DVD release in the correct aspect ratio. MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON is practically the only film that I would seriously compare to LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Each one is what you might call a thinking man's epic. Both of them succeed in asking provocative questions, without succumbing to giving the audience banal answers.

Thematically, MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON is one of the relatively few films that seriously deals with male friendship gone wrong. Although the theme of toxic friendships has been well explored in so-called women's films, it's comparatively rare in films dealing with men. In order to accomplish this aim, MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON takes some license with the facts. However, it does so in order to serve a larger measure of the truth.

MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON never resorts to cliché. This is a film for people who have a taste for sophisticated epic story telling and intimate character study. It has an unflinching eye for the best and the worst in it's characters. Layer by layer, Burton and Speke are revealed to be all too human.

Allow me to recommend MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON to you without reservation.
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Fascinating, to say the least
coradenice20 March 2007
I hardly have the words to describe what I think and how I feel about this movie. Except that I find it stunning. The wild scenery where the two characters' friendship is shaped was splendid, absolutely breathtaking. It was so interesting and moving to watch Richard and John evolve around each other and get so close and united when confronted with life-and-death situations in the wilderness. The story revolves around great ideals and principles in an age of innocence, when human bonding, friendship, love, still had that touch of solemnity, honor and oath. It was very sad to see how John's deep feelings for his best, truest friend degenerate under the manipulation of a man with no scruples. The ending was heartbreaking and liberating, at the same time. The highpoint of the film was, in my opinion, when Richard is shown the unfinished bust of his late friend. The loving, nostalgic look and smile he displays while adjusting John's cheek-bones sums up beautifully the entire story of their friendship, and also suggests that John will always be in Richard's heart, as he knew him for real in Africa, when they went through so many things together, despite his naive, reckless betrayal and despite the games of interests that followed when returning to the civilized world. Truly excellent, I highly recommend it to everyone. It works magic for the soul.
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Too bad no-one seems to know this nice movie.
Philip Van der Veken8 October 2004
I have to admit that, before it was shown on television a few weeks ago, I had never heard of the movie. When I see how many people wrote a review or voted for this movie on IMDb, I guess I'm not the only one. It's clear to me that this is a movie that has never had any attention. Not from the public, the cinema's nor the festivals. Even journalist didn't pay much attention to it. Does that mean this movie isn't worth seeing? Certainly not, although the subject probably isn't very attractive to the mainstream audience.

The movie tells the story of Burton and Speke, two friends and explorers who tried to find the source of the Nile in the middle of the nineteenth century. Burton was more of an anthropologist who wanted to learn more about the indigenous tribes which they encountered on their journeys, while Speke was more interested in the discovery of the source itself. Once they were back home they become enemies, because Speke tells everybody who wants to hear it that he alone discovered the source of the Nile, namely Lake Victoria.

There are different things that I liked about this movie. The acting was very good, the costumes were nice, but what I really liked were the images from the African landscapes, the animals, the people... Seeing the images from England just made me look forward to the next scenes in Africa. It never felt right to see these two explorers in England, you're always left with the feeling that they belong in Africa. I guess that is where the strength of this movie lies ... It makes you feel exactly the way these men felt. I reward this little masterpiece with an 8/10.
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Indiana Jones who?
Barry Kruse20 March 2002
This is an excellent film, and it's unfortunate that it wasn't more widely seen. I wish I would've caught it in the theater, as I'm sure it would be magnificent there.

In it, you're going to see some of the most painfully memorable scenes in cinema (that I refuse to give away), and an epic story that is most remarkably, wholly true.

I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark, and before "meeting" Sir Richard Francis Burton, thought characters of Indy's ilk were simply figments of Steven Spielberg's imagination. However, with study you will find that Burton's experience (and that well beyond this expedition) makes him one of the most enigmatic, interesting people to have ever walked the face of the earth. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

Slow, smart, challenging, beautiful. And highly recommended viewing.
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Historical drama with exceptional photography...
mlionfire26 January 2005
I have seen this movie several times and have enjoyed it immensely each time. The photography is beautiful and captures some incredible views of Africa. The story is of the adventure to discover the legendary source of the Nile, with the character of Richard Francis Burton(the famous 19th Century Irish Adventurer and translator of Kama Sutra and Perfumed Garden,who was fluent in many languages, and the English adventurer, John Speke. It is well worth the seeking out and watching, with the main incidents being historically accurate(such as who finally gets credit for the discoveries). It also brings into the light the prejudices of the Historical Society in the mid 1800's. An excellent movie!
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A great film, it's to bad no went to see it.
When this film came out in 1990, it disappeared from the theaters as quickly as it came. Which is a shame really, because MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON is an excellent historical drama about the search for source of the Nile. The film is beautifully photographed on real African locations. I hate to call this film an epic, because that word has bad connotations today, and the film does not suffer from "epicitis" like so many films dubbed "epics". But MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON is an epic in the positive sense of the word.

The cast is uniformally good. A lot has already been written in this forum by others about the leads so I won't say anymore. Supporting player Delroy Lindo sometimes steals the show with his excellent role as the expeditions African guide.

I recommend you rent this along with STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE for a night of good viewing.

Till next time...Your pal Jim.
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Often Overlooked Masterpiece
brandon-128 February 2001
A great story, beautifully filmed and acted about two Victorian era explorers. Irish-born Sir Richard Francis Burton, one of the greatest explorers in history, is in search of knowledge. English-born dilletante John Hanning Speke joins Burton's quest in search of glory. Together they search for the answer to one of the most elusive geographical questions of their time - what is the Nile's source? The film accurately shows how the Royal Geographical Society and other outside interests played Burton and Speke against each other for their own gain.

The film's tagline really says it all: "Two strangers made friends by a savage world. Two friends made enemies by a civilized world."
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What's amazing is...they went BACK.
tenthousandtattoos10 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This film is so atmospheric it makes you want to pack a rucksack, some provisions, bid the family goodbye and jump aboard a boat headed for the dark continent...welcome to Mountains of the Moon, based on the true life exploits of 1850's explorers Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke.

Bob Rafelson has done a fine job directing this historical epic, and it's a shame this great film is not more readily available. It begins when Michael Small's wonderful theme segues over the titles into some tribal drums and we see ships landing on an African shore. Speke (Iain Glen) has travelled to Morocco to meet Burton (Patrick Bergin), a seasoned explorer. Both men have a fascination with finding the source of the Nile River.

The film jumps straight into the action, with Burton narrating their first foray together into the fold of the dark continent, the area on maps of the time that was simply a great blank expanse, labelled "Uncharted and Unexplored".

Their camp is attacked in the dead of night by a hostile tribe, who kill many of Burton's party, along with most of the African porters along for the journey, and take Speke captive, while Burton flees to the ocean shore with the head porter, but not before taking a spear through the face. Speke awakes in the morning to the brutal tribe picking through the camp and torturing survivors, and after being tortured himself (in a truly disturbing scene as we realise this tribesman that is stabbing him in the thighs with a spear is not doing it to "interrogate", he is doing it purely for the fun of it) makes a knuckle-biting escape to join Burton at the seaside where ships have come to take them home.

After this dramatic opening, the film settles into a nice rhythm, cutting back to some scenes in England where Burton meets Isabel Arundel (Fiona Shaw), who would become the love of his life. Fiona Shaw's performance is great, her powerful voice and demeanour a perfect match for Burton's larger than life persona and brash nature.

Then it's off to Africa again, and a wonderful trek across the endless savanna to discover the source of the great river that fascinates both men, and indeed an entire nation back home.

But Burton is struck ill on the journey, and it is Speke who finishes the trek, finding what he (correctly, though he didn't know it then) thought to be the source of the Nile, a great lake he named Victoria.

Back in England again, the story turns to the subsequent betrayal of Burton by Speke, in claiming sole credit for the discovery, and that drove a permanent wedge between the friends.

As in Burton's own words he describes his relationship with John Speke as being as close as two men can become without being lovers. That is truly shown in this film, the relationship is real, and heart-felt, by both performers in a truly amazing film.

Particularly moving is when Burton is informed of his friend's death/suicide while giving a speech, and though he tries, is unable to continue speaking. It's very well acted...he doesn't break down or anything, but you can see the sadness crawl across his features like a shadow as he falters over his words.

Costumes, music, photography, it's all superb, and to specify how superb it is would be redundant. It's simply better to experience it for yourself. It's immersive and rich, and for a historical epic (a genre notoriously prone to too-long, melodramatic and ultimately boring films) it moves along at a nice pace that never gets dull. The dialogue is wonderfully written, as is the film itself, adapted in part from Burton's own manuscripts.

The scenes in England are all the more beautiful with the performance of Fiona Shaw. Her final words to Burton are stirring and so effortlessly believable. Another standout scene is a brief appearance by Bernard Hill as Sir David Livingstone (you'll recognise him most recently as Theodan, King of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings films).

Perfect for a comfy night in on the couch, this movie has adventure, action, humour, depth of character and story, great music and photography, and a "sitting round the campfire telling stories" kind of feel that is just great. Highly recommended.
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Fascinating Adventure with a Story of Friendship
Claudio Carvalho6 August 2016
In the Nineteenth Century, the British writer, geographer and explorer Captain Richard Francis Burton (Patrick Bergin) meets the Lieutenant John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen) during a dangerous journey in Africa and after being saved by Speke, they become friends. Soon they team-up to seek the source of the Nile River sponsored by the Royal Geographic Society. Meanwhile Burton meets his fan Isabel Arundell (Fiona Shaw) and they get married to each other. Burton and Speke travel for many months through Africa where they face brutal tribes, diseases, hunger and many other dangers together. Speke finds a lake that he believes it is the source of Nile River but Burton disagrees and believes they need more scientific research to be sure. When they separately return to London, the ambitious publisher Larry Oliphant (Richard E. Grant) stirs up a quarrel between the two friends and Speke travels alone to Africa trying to prove his findings. Will their friendship end?

"Mountains of the Moon" is a fascinating adventure with a story of friendship based on a historic event, the journey of Captain Richard Francis Burton and Lieutenant John Hanning Speke to the African Great Lakes. The plot may be not accurate but the film is engaging and the landscapes are breathtaking. The viewer does not feel the 136 minutes running time. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Montanhas da Lua" ("Mountains of the Moon")
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One of my favorite movies of all time
poslynch29 March 2005
This movie has all the elements of a good motion picture: adventure, drama, romance, and a touch of comic relief. The script explores themes of friendship, commitment, loyalty, and betrayal within the context of the relationships of the historical figures depicted. Though the setting is different, platonic male friendship and bonding are handled in the tradition of the best old time westerns. Further on-screen relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual, are depicted in the romantic way typical of successful motion pictures. This is not a documentary on the search for the source of the Nile River by any means. Rather, true events provide the backdrop for what is essentially the story of a friendship. Though well researched and basically accurate, some historical facts were manipulated and/or romanticized as so often occurs in the movies.
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If you still need to be convinced(not a spoiler):
birck15 August 2004
Warning: Spoilers
All of the previous comments are accurate, in my estimation. This film is an overlooked gem. If the viewer still requires a convincing sample: There is a pivotal scene wherein Burton, having returned to England from one expedition and seeking funding for another, applies in person to the Royal Geographical Society, currently under the direction of none other than the aging David Livingstone himself.As the two men converse, uncomfortably, they discover that their experiences in Africa have given them something in common; the results are believable, true to the characters, probably accurate, and undeniably hilarious.
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" I have been to the Great Mother of rivers and seen it's magnificent child "
thinker16919 April 2011
The source of the Nile river captivated many English explorers during the nineteenth century. That majestic river which spans some four thousand miles in length is the basis of this incredible movie. The film written by William Harrison is directed by Bob Rafelson and called "The Mountains of the moon." It stars Patrick Bergin as Capt. Richard Burton. It follows Burton and his traveling companion Lt. John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen) as two courageous, intrepid and certainly adventurous British explorers as they search for the Headwaters of the Nile. Along the way, they meet Sidi Bombay (Paul Onsongo) the most experienced African guide who despite all the rigors suffered by him and the rest of the expedition, receives none of the credit for the discovery. However, the story centers on Burton and Speke who begin as friends and years later end with each believing their society and media friends as they create unaccounted falsehoods and unfounded rumorers of the other's exploits. Still for all it's worth, the movie is a great addition to the treasury of collected works on the Dark Continent. Delroy Lindo has a good part with his character 'Mabruki.' Recommended to any adventurous spirit who wished to visit Africa and the Nile in it's heyday. ****
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Mountains of the Moon for the Misbegotten
gradyharp21 October 2010
MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON is a twenty-year-old film that is beginning to find an audience via DVD release and word of mouth. Until now it has been a well-kept secret, having disappeared after a too brief run at the box office in competition with such blockbusters as The Godfather Part III, Dances with Wolves, The Hunt for red October, Ghost, GoodFellas, Ghost, Pretty Woman and a host of others in that prime year. But as a cinematic achievement it was not like the O'Neill 'Misbegotten', just Forgotten. Perhaps now time has erased the problem of initial anonymity and we are impressed with this epic story based on the novel by William Harrison that explores the life and psyche of Sir Richard Burton, who with Dr David Livingstone (Bernard Hill), was one of the greatest British explorers of the 19th century.

The time is 1864 and Sir Richard Burton (Patrick Bergin, in a multifaceted magnificent performance that was Oscar worthy) gathers financial backing to set out on an expedition to search for the source of the Nile River somewhere in East Africa. He is joined by the somewhat cocky but brilliant John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen): Burton seeks to understand the many cultural aspects of the tribes he will encounter while Speke brings guns and dreams on conquering the heathen natives that may block their discovery. They set off to East Africa and being their trek on foot across the impossibly difficult terrain, encountering every hardship imaginable including hostile tribes who are part of the current slavery business. Burton brings along one Sidi Bombay (Paul Onsongo) who speaks all the languages of the various tribes and knows the terrain. Burton and Speke grow in their friendship and admiration for each other, saving each other's lives during attacks, and caring for each other's subsequent wounds. At one point Burton encounters a runaway slave Mabruki (Delroy Lindo) and honors his ancestry and knowledge of Africa: when Mabruki is later captured by a tribe and is yoke of slavery is restored, Burton is enraged and rather than seeing his friend suffer he performs the euthanasia that Mabruki requests. Burton comes down with bilateral lower extremity cellulitis and requires incision and drainage and Speke stays by his side during recovery: at this point in time it is suggested that Burton and Speke had a loving physical relationship, a theme that history books reinforce. Eventually Burton sends Speke to proceed on the quest to find the source of the Nile, Speke discovers Lake Victoria and though Burton is uncertain as to the end of the expedition (believing that their are several lakes that feed the Nile) they return to England victorious.

Once in England Burton marries a rather feisty feminist Isabel Arundell (Fiona Shaw) and together they face the fact that the Royal Academy is touting Speke as the discoverer of the Nile Source. Through a series of lies and ill-advised plans Speke is lauded and Burton is to debate Speke before the Royal Academy. But Speke's love for Burton as well as his knowledge that the discovery is not his alone drives Speke to suicide. And the subsequent order of events is shared with the audience in written form as the film ends.

There are so many superlative actors in this huge film that space does not allow mention of them all. The various tribes in Africa are resplendent in their costumes and customs and cinematographer Roger Deakins captures every aspect of the locations in both Africa and in England beautifully. The musical score by Michael Small is equally fine and Bob Rafelson's direction is tight and focused and yet lets us appreciate the vastness of the African countryside as well as the intimate moments between the actors. This is a magnificent epic film and while it may not be absolutely true to history it does give us a sense of that British obsession with conquering the unknown. Highly recommended.

Grady Harp
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A great adventure movie with a wonderful soundtrack.
psagray31 July 2012
In 1850, Captain Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke Lt. together embark on the adventure that will take you to the sources of the Nile is an expedition on behalf of the British Empire and Queen Victoria.

The film, which has a proper setting, a significant costume design and superb locations, focuses on the portrayal of two characters who first undertook this search, on the one hand, Richard Burton, romantic and Arabist, man of great culture and sensitivity to other peoples, but also stormy and haughty character. On the other, John Hanning Speke, more gray, a perfect Victorian product, correct, serious, effective and unobtrusive. United by a common passion (explore and discover the African interior), share experiences and hardships without end in the river Nile, which is, paradoxically, the reason for their estrangement and rupture. Although the contrast between the two characters are well crafted, the film insists unnecessarily to suggest that shared a deep friendship, when the reality is that their relationship did not exceed the loyal companions of the expedition.

With a proper script and good performances, especially that of Bergin playing Burton, the film takes place at a good pace, delayed only by the love story, featuring some time expendable The soundtrack to Michael Small is very careful and accurate, maybe it's the best composition of the author to the cinema. Filmed entirely in African landscapes, spares no scenery and it is the traditional adventure films, as always.

Undoubtedly much of the film is shot in Africa helps a lot to believe in this film and more to take the director of photography Roger Deakins Briton who has been called to work with almost all the great directors who sought search a photograph in remote areas and special landscapes
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A fascinating film: Captain Burton's trip to the heart of Africa
romail10022 July 2012
The British Empire owed a lot to opportunistic soldiers of fortune as well as to explorers: men who risked their lives (and the lives of others) for profit, fame and the recognition from their peers for their accomplishments. In the last category one could think of men like Livingstone, Stanley, Scott and Burton. Captain Richard Francis Burton (whose life we follow in this film) risked a lot for the sake of discovery (to find the source of the Nile) but at the same time he was also a man with a genuine interest and outmost respect for the indigenous peoples and cultures found deep in Africa.

In the film we see Burton joining forces with a young and ambitious Lieutenant (Lt. Speke) to travel again to his beloved Africa to locate the source of Nile with an expedition funded by the Royal Geographical Society. The film is an account of this trip but shows also events before and after this. Watching this movie we can grasp the differences between the two men, their strong ties and friendship during their common effort in the expedition and also later how each one coped with their success at home (London).

The Mountains of the Moon is a fascinating film. It tells a great story without romanticizing the situations during and after the trip to Africa. Burton, Speke and their comrades endured too much to find the source of Nile, and all of them for their own reasons. The novel by William Harrison (that this movie is based on) does not fall into the trap of trying to imitate Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' but gives us a different perspective altogether. Do not miss this film.
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Nicely Done Exploration of an Exploration.
Robert J. Maxwell29 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I'd never heard of it but it turned out to be a fine study of what was called in the mid-19th century an "expedition" to find the source of the Nile River in central Africa. Everybody seemed to be poking their European and sometimes American noses into the Dark Continent, looking for slaves, money, maps, treasure, trophy animals, conquest, rivers, or fifteen minutes of fame. The expedition of Sir Richard Burton (Patrick Bergin) and John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen) was one of the first, the object of which was to track the Nile to its source. They never really did it. The trip was brutal. The two Englishmen and their bearers were plagued by illness and other dangers. The climate ruined much of their survey equipment. The two men returned separately to England, where Burton found that Speke had claimed most of the credit already, assigning Burton the role of a sickly companion. The former colleagues never spoke again. Speke died of a gunshot wound while hunting. Burton died later of a heart attack on political appointment in Trieste.

Speke was always more of a Victorian conformist and colonialist, like so many others. But as for Burton, he hardly needed this trek to gain his fifteen minutes of fame. He'd already accumulated several hours worth.

He was a burly, darkly handsome, eccentric adventurer and scholar, something on the order of Lawrence of Arabia. He spoke a couple of dozen languages and wrote, for the first time, unexpurgated versions of "The Kama Sutra" and "The Arabian Nights," among other classics. I read Burton's Arabian nights as a kid, looking for the erotic parts and wasn't too disappointed but, more than that, found it entertaining and even amusing. One tale has an attractive young couple spending the night in bed without touching one another, and Burton had added a footnote: "The young man must have been a demon of chastity." Not very Victorian! I missed the first part of the film and tuned in while Speke and Burton are undergoing some frightening and dismal experiences in an African village. Their loyal chief bearer, an early role for Delroy Lindo of the monumental jaw, is put to an excruciating death before Burton's drugged eyes.

Yes, it's well done, directed by Bob Rafaelson, and the two leads are convincing approximations of the originals. The rift between the two, and Burton's final fatalistic shrug, are rather touching. Nobody weeps. Nobody punches anyone else in the nose. A young African king kills a couple of people with a toy revolver (boy, was THAT a bad gift) but there's no shoot out. No Victorian gentleman ever even shouts at another. It's lushly photographed too. You wouldn't want to make the journey that Speke and Burton did.

An all-around good job by everyone concerned.
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What an adventure! And nobody knows about it????
trochon-122 December 2009
I just discovered this movie. I had not heard anything about it or so little that I did not remember it. Well i discovered a real jewel. A great adventure. So many things happening. England, Africa, politics, hate, love, savagery, friendship... Everything is in this movie. It's Indiana Jones and Dallas and Greystoke all together The acting is great. I don't know if this was the way it happened or not but for more than 2 hours, i felt i was back in the 19th century.

How can such a movie be totally forgotten?

A beautiful description of an epic history.

If you have not seen it yet, just find it and enjoy!
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My Choice in 1990!!!!!! Total Recall or Mountains of the Moon!.
mikemanners1121 December 2009
I had a choice at the Cinemas back in 1990 to see either Mountains of the Moon or Total Recall. I saw both advertised on the wall next to the concession stand. "What is Mountains of the Moon" I asked my self. This is the first I have heard of it. All of my friends and I were there to see Arnold kick some but.

Which movie did I choose? guessed it.....Like a total brainwashed Zombie I chose the Arnold Movie. I was programmed and conditioned by hype to WANT to see Total Recall and noting else.

I missed seeing a GREAT movie on the Big Screen. I would give anything to go back in time and choose differently.

The visuals and scenes of MOTM were very fascinating even watching this on VHS some years later.

The producers/distributors obviously lacked the big budget in 1990 for Advertising that the fat cats who made Total Recall did. ALSO, most Americans are probably too ignorant of History to even know anything about the Colonial Exploration of Africa - so the desire to see a film of this genre was low staring out.

IN SHORT I highly recommend this movie. If you are a thinking person it will inspire you to desire to know more about these men who braved impossible odds to explore new worlds.

Richard Burton's books are available in reprints from Dover Press. Did you know that he was the first White European to visit Mecca? Yes that could have been a movie itself. He wrote about it in a great book.

IMPORTANT: This movie was based on a play called "Burton and Speake" and not on Burton's or Speake's writings. There are artistic licenses taken.
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the whole story
RanchoTuVu10 November 2005
A fascinating blend of 19th century Africa and England, an interesting contrast portrayed quite well in this film about the search for the source of the Nile River, with two distinct personalities, the sensual anthropologist Richard Francis Burton (Patrick Bergin) and the straight laced and repressed John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen), who on the trails of Africa save each other's lives numerous times, while back in England become bitter foes in the fight for the glory that goes with finding the river's beginning. It's downright fascinating at times, in both parts of the world, Africa for the color and richness of the portrayal of the cultures, and the ever present potential danger, and England, consumed with hero worship, vanity, backstabbing, and greed.
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Encounters at the Ends of the World
chaos-rampant18 September 2010
If we hope to be educated by film, Mountains of the Moon shows us why that's a slippery slope. Bob Rafelson wanted to make this film for years but he takes liberties about key things, so that means he was looking to tell a very specific story about two people, rather than evoke something of the reality of European exploration in Africa. This is romantic, classical, storytelling. For example:

Speke is shown to hesitate when he returns to England before he goes before the Royal Geographical Society, no doubt to show him as a pawn used by his publishers who hope to make a fortune on his findings. In reality Speke hastened back to England.

In the end we're told that Speke's theory that Lake Victoria is the source of the river Nile is correct. In reality, the White Nile flows out of a system of lakes in the region, which would mean that Richard Burton's theory was correct. But Speke's betrayal of his friend in the film is so alienating for his character, that his committing suicide is not atonement enough. The film also feels the need to vindicate his theory post mortem.

What this means is that Mountains of the Moon takes liberties with fact, but does so in the interest of likable, well-rounded, characters. A lot of the drama is riveting. There's good and bad in them and Speke is not allowed to become the villain. That reveals Bob Rafelson's method here; there's too much 'film' in Mountains of the Moon. Africa is a central character in the same inescapable way the desert is prominent in Lawrence of Arabia, it shapes and moulds the people and spits them back out in Victorian England scarred and tattered, but this story of loyalty, friendship, and betrayal, almost takes place apart from Africa. Rafelson doesn't have the affinity for the mysteries of a new world, at once horrible and wonderful, the capacity to be at awe, as Herzog in his jungle films or Coppola in Apocalypse Now. The landscape is there but Rafelson doesn't quite know what to do with it. He shoots it like it's a studio backlot. The African desert is there but it doesn't have a presence. When the expedition sets off for the interior of Africa, we get bouncy 'adventure' music in upbeat tempos.

Then we're taken captives by a local chieftain and the movie takes a turn towards something that reminds me of Cobra Verde, where Klaus Kinski suffers a similar fate off the West African coast, and Cabeza de Vacas, where the sole survivor of a conquistador expedition is held by Mexican indians, elaborate rituals and peculiar ceremonies introduce us to a strange world where ornate violence is at the heart of everything. Rafelson is still doing a movie in the classical sense of the term though, and for that movie little has changed since the 60's when British colonial interests in the area where again depicted in the historical epic Khartoum.

If Terrence Malick is filled with lyrical wonder at everything around him in his tale of the settlement of New England in The New World, Bob Rafelson is the complete opposite, he's too banal about the Nile expedition in Mountains of the Moon. En route we get some great images, like the slavetrading party Burton and Speke happen upon. Victorian maps showed the area as a blank spot of terra incognita, but Arab slavetraders had filtered for centuries millions of slaves through to Zanzibar and knew those places. But they're never unforgettable images to burn themselves in my memory. Rafelson's way of making this film is too prosaic for that. Everything else is mostly simplified and simplistic. This is still the type of film where a voice-over narrating a journal takes us through the various steps of a journey. It's not special enough.
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