Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (1985)


(director: Sydney Pollack; screenwriters: Kurt Luedtke/from the books by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) “Out of Africa”, “Shadows on the Grass” and “Letters from Africa”/from the book The Life of a Storyteller” by Judith Thurman/from the book ”Silence Will Speak” by Errol Trzebinski; cinematographer: David Watkin; editor: Pembroke Herring/Sheldon Kahn/Fredric Steinkamp/William Steinkamp; music: John Barry; cast: Meryl Streep (Karen Blixen), Robert Redford (Denys Finch Hatton), Klaus Maria Brandauer (Bror Blixen / Hans Blixen), Michael Kitchen (Berkeley Cole), Malick Bowens (Farah), Joseph Thiaka (Kamante), Stephen Kinyanjui (Kinanjui), Michael Gough (Lord Delamere), Suzanna Hamilton (Felicity), Rachel Kempson (Lady Belfield), Graham Crowden (Lord Belfield), Leslie Phillips (Sir Joseph); Runtime: 161; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Sydney Pollack; Universal; 1985)
“Dull biopic of the strong-willed Danish writer Isak Dinesen.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Dull biopic of the strong-willed Danish writer Isak Dinesen (name used as a writer), whose married name is Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep). Streep plays her with an annoyingly cumbersome Danish accent and a heavy heart. The downbeat film stole Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Original Score, Art Direction and Sound. With so much gold, you would think you’d at least have a watchable flick. Instead we are forced to look at countless shots of African landscape as it takes an eternity for the romantic tragedy to register and by that time, in this overlong 161 minutes, I was lost somewhere in the jungle of my mind trying to keep from nodding out. This is not one of director Sydney Pollack’s (“The Way We Were”/”Sketches of Frank Gehry”/”Three Days of the Condor”) better ventures, Oscar or not. It’s based on the 1937 autobiographical book by Dinesen, and was scripted by Kurt Luedtke and shot on location in Africa–with the city of Nairobi recreated as it had appeared in the early 1900s.

It tells of the refined and wealthy Karen marrying in circa 1914 Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke (Klaus Maria Brandauer), the owner of a coffee plantation in Kenya (then called British East Africa), in a marriage of convenience, with her getting the title of the baroness and the baron getting her money. It turns out to be a loveless marriage, as he’s a womanizer who leaves her for long periods to run the plantation on her own, and eventually will split for good to become a great hunter leaving her the plantation. Karen will first fall in love with the land, then the people and finally with the mysterious but bland Etonian son of an English Earl, the white ivory hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), and the two begin a breathtaking love affair that ends without marriage because the no-strings-attached hunter is not the sort of chap to be tied down. In 1931, upon her return to Denmark, she writes about her romantic adventure and becomes a famous writer.

This is a heavy going Safari Park film that seems to be going nowhere slowly. It’s an insipid period drama that reeks of self-importance and wants you to think that Streep can do no wrong as a thesp and the American Redford’s lazily derived aristocratic Brit performance is the cat’s meow. But it seemingly has the right kind of technical polish to impress the Academy folks, and should appeal to those who yearn for the old-fashioned star power Hollywood lush romantic pic.