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In a Savage Land (1999)

Not Rated | | Adventure, Drama | 21 October 1999 (Australia)
Two married anthropologists go to an island off of Papua New Guinea for field research.


Bill Bennett


Bill Bennett, Jennifer Cluff (as Jennifer Bennett)
7 wins & 7 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Rufus Sewell ... Mick Carpenter
Martin Donovan ... Dr. Phillip Spence
Maya Stange ... Evelyn Spence
Max Cullen ... Douglas Stevens
John Howard ... Rev Macgregor
Andrew S. Gilbert Andrew S. Gilbert ... Gerry
Marshall Napier ... Sir Geoffrey Hallerton
Susan Lyons Susan Lyons ... Helen Stevens
Don Barker Don Barker ... Barman
Tom Moraya Tom Moraya ... Biui
Rose Vaia Rose Vaia ... Inupi
Chief Tokonou Tokwamula Chief Tokonou Tokwamula ... Chief Tokunou
Ivan Fabian Ivan Fabian ... Toyodola
Wesley Momen Wesley Momen ... Bartering Boy
David Keleb David Keleb ... Bartering Boy


Two anthropologists married to each other go to an island off of Papua New Guinea for field research in pre-World War II. Eventually the war breaks out and many lives are disrupted and complicated. Written by Ken Papai

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


In the tradition of Out of Africa. See more »


Adventure | Drama


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


"Whatever casting decision you make, that choice resonates throughout the character. I'm not a director with strict parameters into which the actors must fit and I believe actors will bring their intelligence and interpretation to it and as long as that fits the needs of that character, it can only help the film," said director Bill Bennett. "Martin Donovan has brought more compassion to Phillip, Rufus Sewell has brought some complexity to Mick, Maya Stange made Evelyn live, and John Howard has created a truly exciting character for the missionary." See more »


[first lines]
Evelyn Spence: I once met a man, not my husband, another man. He looked back on a life. What would you carry into the darkness? For me, I'll take the smell of a pearl shell, freshly opened, one day on a beach.
See more »

User Reviews

Mills and Boon go troppo
24 October 1999 | by Philby-3See all my reviews

Real Anthropology is of course an impossibility - how can a human study human society objectively? Earlier this century Western scholars were under the comfortable delusion they could apply the eye of God technique (so useful for writing novels) to the study of indigenous peoples in various parts of the earth. The eye of God sees all, but the anthropologist, constrained by his or her own conditioning, saw only a partial picture, or else got it wrong entirely. Thus Margaret Mead saw free love in Samoa, where in reality there was a complicated series of taboos.

This visually gorgeous film, made with great difficulty on location in the Trobriand Islands of New Guinea, is the kind of picture you would get if National Geographic did joint ventures with Mills and Boon. Spunky young anthropology graduate (Maya Stange) marries her handsome if rather remote Professor (Martin Donovan) and they go off to the fabled Trobriand Islands to do a year's fieldwork in the steps of the great Malinowski who described them as the Isles of Love. The Prof has the rather strange idea that he can study a matrilinear society (where kinship is determined by female descent) by talking exclusively to the men. Naturally Spunky has other ideas and soon starts to make waves. Conveniently located nearby is devastatingly handsome Trader Dick (Rufus Sewell) who soon starts displaying an interest in Spunky. Naturally things get a bit tense. Just as the plot gets a bit tedious, Force Majeure in the form of World War Two intervenes. Will Spunky find her lost love? The answer depends on which version of the film you see.

The two anthropologists, neatly outfitted in tropical linen, make bulls in china shops look like brain surgeons. The Prof is supposed to be experienced, yet he plunks himself down in the middle of the village, completely ignoring the fact that not only can he see all through the village, the inhabitants can see him 24 hours a day also. He, or the script writers, had only to read Malinowski's diaries to appreciate the difficulties of this kind of fieldwork. Spunky on the other hand intervenes every time she comes across a local custom she doesn't like, though to her credit after causing a tragedy she comes to see the folly of her ways. Then she overreacts by going native for a while.

The real problem with the film though is that, like Spunky and the Prof, we stay outside the native society, we do not feel with them, but observe them from a distance. The anthropologists, two implausible characters in a half-formed plot, simply do not get inside their subject. The redneck traders understand the natives better even as they exploit them. As one of the traders says, "these are the nicest people in the world and you can't believe a thing they say." That does help to explain how Margaret Mead got it so spectacularly wrong in Samoa.

All that said, Maya Stange as Spunky holds the viewer's attention and Rufus Sewell does a nice understated Trader Dick with a somewhat indeterminate accent - Dick is mean to be American.. Max Cullen turns in a convincing portrait of a weary (and regrettably authentically racist) Australian colonial servant. The photography is as luscious as one could wish. Maybe the producers should have just made a documentary and left Messrs Mills and Boon on the shelf.

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Official Sites:

Beyond Films [Australia]





Release Date:

21 October 1999 (Australia) See more »

Also Known As:

Az egzotikus sziget See more »

Filming Locations:

Alotau, Papua New Guinea See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital


See full technical specs »

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