Mountains of the Moon (1990) Poster

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compelling epic
SnoopyStyle28 January 2016
It's 1854. Entitled aristocratic John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen) arrives on the East African Coast on leave from the Army. He recruits Captain Richard Francis Burton (Patrick Bergin) on a journey to find the source of the Nile. Burton is an expert on natives. They call the location Mountains of the Moon. The expedition is soon attacked by a local tribe. Burton and Speke barely escape. Back in England, Burton is organizing a new expedition with the Royal Geographical Society. Isabel Arundell is a well-read spinster and completely taken with Burton. With Speke at his side, Burton returns to Africa to lead a grand expedition following Arab slave trade routes into the interior. They rescue escaped slave Mabruki (Delroy Lindo) from the lions.

It is an epic Victorian adventure. It's too bad that few saw it and it continues that few people knows about it. It is grand and a character study. The black Africans are not cartoon characters. One can compare it to Lawrence of Arabia. The cinematography is not quite as great but the story is every bit as compelling. This is an old fashion epic that is being made less and less. There is so much in this story. Surprisingly, the last half hour takes place in England. Changing tone from tense adventure in Africa to Academic back-fighting in London can be tough but the movie never stops being interesting.
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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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the Monkees' creator directs Ser Jorah Mormont, Aunt Petunia, Master Aemon, King Théoden and Dr. Zhivago
lee_eisenberg29 June 2021
Bob Rafelson got his start in entertainment by creating the Monkees as a knockoff of the Beatles. He then turned to cinema, directing Jack Nicholson in several movies (most notably "Five Easy Pieces"). With all this under his belt, it will probably come as a surprise to people that Rafelson also directed the 1990 epic "Mountains of the Moon", about Richard Burton's and John Speke's expedition to find the source of the Nile. Certainly an impressive story.

Undeniably, they put their all into the movie. I just get the feeling that the lax depiction of colonialism might look questionable nowadays. Otherwise, I recommend the movie.

In addition to Patrick Bergin, the cast includes Iain Glen (Ser Jorah Mormont on "Game of Thrones"), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies), Peter Vaughan (Master Aemon on "Game of Thrones"), Bernard Hill (King Théoden in the Lord of the Rings movies) and Omar Sharif (the title role in "Dr. Zhivago"). Also appearing are Richard E. Grant, Delroy Lindo and Roshan Seth.

To think that there was an explorer named Richard Burton, and then a man named Richard Jenkins adopted the name Richard Burton to become an actor (interestingly enough, there was a later actor named Richard Jenkins).
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Nicely Done Exploration of an Exploration.
rmax30482329 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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Interesting docu-drama
grantss21 August 2014
Interesting docu-drama. Tells the story of the expedition of Captain Richard Burton and Lt John Hanning Speke to find the source of the Nile river, in the 1850s. Tells of their trials and tribulations, and what happened once they returned to England.

For the most part, the movie is a boys-own story of action and adventure, of close escapes from mortal danger, and surviving. However, Disney this is not (and thankfully so). The action scenes are quite gritty and graphically violent, which give it a great sense of realism.

Settings and cinematography are great, as you would hope for a exploration-adventure movie.

Last few scenes are quite moving too.
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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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Good if you're interested in the subject
=G=22 May 2003
"Mountains of the Moon" is a historical biodrama which focuses on British explorer Capt. Richard Burton (Bergin) during that portion of his life when, accompanied by John Speke, he ventured into Africa (circa mid 1800's) in search of the much sought after source of the Nile river. Though Burton and Speke were adventurers of the first order, their position in history is somewhat obscure and esoteric making the substance of the film of questionable value to the public at large. The film seems to spread itself so thin in its attempt to be all things to all people as to lack focus and fall short of the epic it was probably intended to be. Nonetheless, "M of the M" should be time well spent for those interested in the exploration of the dark continent or expeditionary adventure in general. (B)
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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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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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superb historical adventure film
weezeralfalfa9 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
As with many other reviewers here, among my top choices for overall quality of screenplay acting, and cinematography, and reasonable historical accuracy, in a historically important, extremely difficult expedition, in which the existence of both lakes Tanganyika and Victoria were sighted for the first time by modern Europeans, although rumored since ancient times to exist. As dramatized, later, Burton, who was too ill to accompany Speke on the trek that resulted in an all too brief sighting of Lake Victoria, justly questioned Speke's claim, based on flimsy evidence, that Lake Victoria must be the main source of the White Nile. The screenplay fails to mention that Speke led a subsequent expedition, in which he much more fully explored the region around Lake Victoria, and returned by way of the Nile. Nonetheless, he again failed to provide incontestable proof that Lake Victoria was the main source of the White Nile. Burton was sore that he was passed over to lead this expedition, and continued to harass Speke about the deficiencies in his evidence. The film makes it appear that Speke plotted to kill himself with his hunting rifle the day before a public debate with Burton. Although the circumstantial evidence would seem strong for this conclusion, most contemporaries chose to call it an accident.

I think Burton is falsely characterized as being Irish because this helps accentuate the otherwise historically true perception that, despite his amazing variety of talents, Burton was not a respectable upper class Englishman, such as Speke emulated, thus was discriminated against in acknowledging the accomplishments of their joint expedition.

Along with an interlude between their two journeys, the last portion of the film takes place in England, enlivened by a combination of frivolous frolicking, controversies, and renewed romance, on the part of Burton.

It's not specified that Somalia warriors were responsible for the night attack that nearly killed both Burton and Speke, in their failed first expedition. Next time, they started from the much more hospitable Zanzibar. Quite crucial to the survival of both men and the relative success of the expedition were their two guides: Sidi Bombay and Mabruki, who would be rewarded by being chosen for several additional expeditions into central Africa, including those of Stanley. They were the Kit Carson and Jim Bridger-equivalents to Fremont's expeditions across the American West.

Actually, a merchant in classical Greek times claimed to have discovered the source of the White Nile, claiming it arose in a chain of high snow-covered mountains that emptied into a series of large lakes in central Africa. He said the natives called them the Mountains of the Moon, because of their white snow-capped summits: presumably the Ruwenzoris, which Burton and Speke never reached. The latter mountains do contribute some headwaters to the Nile.

Although the Royal Geographical Society eventually was persuaded by Speke's incomplete evidence that Lake Victoria was the apparent main source of the White Nile, Burton and Livingston continued to promote Lake Tanganyika, which eventually was found, by Stanley, to be a minor source of water for the Congo River.

The film takes the traditional view, promoted by the much longer surviving Burton, that Speke was a much more narrowly focused and talented person, and was sexually and generally emotionally repressed. However, the rather recent book "Explorers of the Nile", makes use of some previously ignored literary sources by or relating to Speke to cast his personality in a more favorable light.
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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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ambitious old-school epic
mjneu599 December 2010
Bob Rafelson's widescreen, epic re-staging of the quest for the source of the Nile River is a challenging, often violent adventure, filled with dynamic action, exotic scenery, and striking contrasts between 'civilized' 19th Century England and the 'savage' wilderness of uncharted Africa. The script needs several clumsy, expository scenes to set up the characters of explorers Richard Francis Burton and John Speke, coming to full-blooded life only after beginning their journey into the Dark Continent. But is it primarily an adventure film, a story of professional kinship and rivalry (with suggestions of homosexual obsession), or a criticism of British chauvinism abroad? A little of all three is not enough of each. The overstated, blockbuster music score and a romantic subplot are liabilities, but overall the film is a throwback to an earlier era of wide screen entertainment, showing the shady politics, misplaced pride, and mortal folly of scientific exploration in an earlier century.
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Too bad no-one seems to know this nice movie.
philip_vanderveken8 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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UK ( A+ Movie) My Ratings 8.5 /10
Muhammad_Rafeeq6 January 2021
This is an underrated epic. A true story on an important subject, that is today taken for granted in the modern 'Google Earth' era. Realtively unknown and unappreciated, his film is fantastic and satisfying on all levels. Filmed in Africa and the UK. Beautiful scenery, violence, adventure, passion, loyalty and betrayal--this movie has it all.. I highly recommend it as a history lesson and great cinema.
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great adventure film in the epic movie tradition
Andy-29631 December 2013
A fine adventure film from the 1990, in the epic movie tradition, based on Richard Burton's and John Speke's exploration of East Africa in the mid 19th century and their discovery of the source of the river Nile and the mountains of the title. The role of Burton was played by Patrick Bergin, an mustachioed Irish actor, who was cast in masculine roles and who seemed to become an important star in those days (he costarred with Julia Roberts in Sleeping with the Enemy), though he finally never achieved a big breakthrough. Speke was portrayed by Iain Glen, while the role of Burton's wife went to Fiona Shaw. In a great scene, they are captured and held hostage by an African chieftain, who is played as a spoiled, barbaric and cruel tyrant. Even if such portrayal was historically true, such scene would probably not be filmed today because of political correctness. Bob Rafelson directed. Filmed in England and in Kenya, the outdoor scenes are a big plus.
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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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Compelling history
dave13-13 May 2012
This is an unusual historical film in that it focuses as much on the personal histories of the men involved (Sir Richard Burton and Lt. Speke), before and after their expedition, as it does on the momentous work they had undertaken, specifically the search for the source of the Nile. Along the way, they explored and mapped much of previously uncharted Africa while enduring disease, bad weather and desertions and thievery by their superstitious and unreliable porters.

Great wide screen cinematography gives us lushly gorgeous vistas of Victorian-era Africa - convincingly unspoiled by modernity - while the close-ups show the intimate details of the journey in all of their hardship and horror.

The result is a sweeping, yet personal adventure and a memorable viewing experience.
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Not Very Good
socrates42 April 2020
MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON attempts to tell the true story of some explorers in search of the source of the Nile. How much of this is true and how much is not is uncertain. But I did not enjoy it either way.

The film has a very thrown-together feel. The dialog is bad and it feels like they rushed through the production process. The end product feels like a cheesy made-for-television drama. Do not recommend.
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Well worth checking
chaswe-2840224 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This tale's uniquely distinctive feature is its vivid portrayal of the life and environment of the natives and other tribes inhabiting, or trading in, central Africa during the 19th century.

The film was shot by Roger Deakins, who has been nominated thirteen times for an Academy Award for his cinematography, and amazingly has never won. He must be the greatest living exponent of his art. He also had unusual early experience of filming African landscapes.

This treatment of the story of Burton and Speke, and their search for the source of the Nile river, has left several viewers, including me, avidly wanting to know more about their relationship, whether Speke committed suicide in 1864, and the fundamental reasons for their apparent falling out. On balance, Burton is presented here as the wronged party, but other factual accounts seem to me to tend to favour Speke, because of Burton's difficult and eccentric personality. His wife, Isabel, was exceptionally devoted, and she is played here by Fiona Shaw, who resembles her strongly in appearance.There is little doubt that Burton was the more remarkable human being of the two, but the question remains open, and it appears that the credit for actually first establishing the source of the Nile must go to Speke. It was ultimately firmly confirmed by Stanley.

There is a conflict between Speke's obsessive Victorian imperialism, and Burton's equally obsessive but more academic interest in the world's varieties of communication and ethnicity. Speke names his lake Victoria, but Burton names his lake Tanganyika. A fine film, but the actual facts are worth checking, even if they resolve nothing.
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Great adventure exploration drama , strange I never heard of it before !!
yvesdemaria14 September 2020
Really great movie like all the reviews here say.

Absolutely no idea why this movie is so much under the radar and not more famous.

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In (not out of) Africa
Michael Fargo30 June 2009
"Mountains of the Moon" is the kind of epic that seems to need a director like Bob Rafelson. I hoped this would be his "Lawrence of Arabia," but something goes amiss in the construction of the drama which Rafelson coauthored. For instance, we learn more about the two protagonists in two single lines than the 40 minutes that begin the film: Speke: (asking permission to organize some specific details of setting up an expedition in to the interior of Africa) responds, "I already have"; and for Burton: (a voice over) "Dear Isabelle…." The meandering, surprisingly cruel, first 40 minutes of the film become irrelevant.

Speke and Burton's search to find the source of the Nile is great material for a film. The scenery alone would lead any director to jump at the chance, but as so often occurs with films about Africa, the Continent overpowers the human drama. Rafelson is a master of human intimacy, and this story of two men's friendship which turns to rivalry is badly mangled by the screenplay. Burton's life alone is a huge trove for the subject of a film, and Rafelson seems to never grip the nature of these men, the essence of the story nor how to tell it.

Yet, the film is worth spending time with only to lavish in the effort of these two men and perhaps the last time when "discovery" meant a places on a map.
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A 19th Century European Account of Africa
Coralknight9 November 2017
As someone who will watch pretty much anything that is filmed on location in Africa, I found this historical retelling of the 19th century Geographic Society's scramble for discovery (also related to the European "scramble for Africa) to be entertaining, condescending and compelling. The cinematography is excellent, there is no mistaking some of those locations. And once you realize this is all a glimpse of Africa from white English explorers who cannot communicate (or even understand) their surroundings, and thus are as confused and appalled as the viewer in some scenes, you can get over some of the more racist undertones...because they were racist back then. So, take this as a period piece of discovery and adventure in an age when people all over the world were discovering each other for the first time, and you will absolutely enjoy it.
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Burton and Speke's Excellent Adventure
Byrdz7 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Mountains of the Moon made me want to get a copy of the journals and read what really happened. Some of the best scenes are when portions of the journals are read as narration, much as is done in the Ken Burn's series.

It's a pretty bloody and at times violent film with lots of sickness and injuries that need to be dealt with using Victorian era techniques and ideas. Won't do into detail here but UGH ! Could have done with less interaction with the slavers and the young king. That seems a bit extended just for the brutality factor.

The costuming is incredibly well done. Visually it feels as if it was filmed back in the 1840's with all the bits and pieces being just as they should be. The costumes of the natives are particularly note-worthy. For those though, I have no frame of reference as to accuracy.

No negative reaction to any of the acting. I was a bit distracted by trying to think why "Isabel" seemed so familiar. Only upon doing the IMDb search I learned that Fiona Shaw was Harry Potters misguided Aunt Petunia ! OK, then ! Cameo by Roger Rees at the end was quite nice.

One of the most memorable scenes was Dr. Livingston and Burton comparing scars a la Mel Gibson and Rene Russo in Lethal Weapon 3. BUT the Livingston / Burton scene really did occur. Not too sure about the whole lying friend caused the rift between the main characters though.

All in all... a good African Explorers Adventure with great scenery, music, acting etc.
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A great film, it's to bad no went to see it.
youroldpaljim8 December 2001
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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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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