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Mountains of the Moon (1990)

1:40 | Clip
The legendary true-story of Capt. Richard Francis Burton and Lt. John Hanning Speke's tumultuous expedition to find the source of the Nile river.


Bob Rafelson


William Harrison (novel), William Harrison (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
1 win. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Patrick Bergin ... Richard Burton
Iain Glen ... John Hanning Speke
Richard E. Grant ... Oliphant
Fiona Shaw ... Isabel
John Savident ... Lord Murchison
James Villiers ... Lord Oliphant
Adrian Rawlins ... Edward
Peter Vaughan ... Lord Houghton
Delroy Lindo ... Mabruki
Bernard Hill ... Dr. Livingstone
Matthew Marsh ... William
Richard Caldicot ... Lord Russell
Christopher Fulford ... Herne
Garry Cooper ... Stroyan
Roshan Seth ... Ben Amir


The story of Captain Richard Francis Burton and Lt. John Hanning Speke's expedition to find the source of the Nile river in the name of Queen Victoria's British Empire. The film tells the story of their meeting, their friendship emerging amidst hardship, and then dissolving after their journey. Written by Greg Bole <bole@life.bio.sunysb.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Two strangers made friends by a savage land. Two friends made enemies by the civilized world.


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


The spear through Burton's face was an actual event, although the scar as depicted was wrong. The spear split his palate, causing a serious internal fracture of the jaw. It also came close to severing his tongue and it knocked out a half-dozen teeth, as well. The fact that he could survive such an extreme injury was near miraculous. See more »


Burton's scar is wrong. The spear completely pierced his face from one side to the other, with a huge scar appearing on both sides. Also, the angle of the scar is reversed, as the actual scar went from his cheekbone and to the corner of his mouth. See more »


Arab chief in Cairo: In this wilderness you will find only Allah's terrible whimsy.
See more »

Crazy Credits

This motion picture's opening title card reads: "East African Coast 1854". See more »


Referenced in Serial Mom (1994) See more »


Kawamba Dance
Recorded by David Fanshawe
From the album "Africa - Witchcraft & Ritual Music"
See more »

User Reviews

Fascinating Adventure with a Story of Friendship
6 August 2016 | by claudio_carvalhoSee all my reviews

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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Release Date:

23 February 1990 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Burton and Speke See more »


Box Office


$19,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$66,683, 25 February 1990

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)| Dolby (35 mm prints)


Color (Rankcolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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