OUT OF AFRICA

Director Sydney Pollack
Year 1985
Starring Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Michael Gough, Suzanna Hamilton, Malick Bowens
Rating PG
Run Time 161min
Age Policy

18 and up; Children 6 and up will be allowed only with a parent guardian. No children under the age of 6 will be allowed.

More Info IMDb

Decades before Cher, Madonna and Michael Jackson perfected the art of reinventing yourself, Karen Christenze Dinesen was practicing the same science, transforming herself from a wealthy Danish baroness to a businesswoman and activist, and finally to a literary legend.

The author had a privileged upbringing, studying in Paris, Rome and Copenhagen in the early days of the 20th century. At 28, she became engaged to her second cousin, Bror von Blixen-Finecke, and the couple left Denmark for Kenya, where they set up a coffee plantation with her family’s financing. Karen would spend the next 17 years in Kenya, struggling with the farm after her marriage dissolved. Over time, she became enthralled by the lush African countryside; she also developed a great fondness for the natives, who Karen realized where often subjugated and mistreated by the white, primarily European settlers. When her plantation failed in the early 1930s, she returned to Denmark where she would spend the rest of her life. But that was only the beginning of her story.

Writing under the pen name of Isak Dinesen, Karen gained immediate renown for her short-story collection “Seven Gothic Tales,” which was published in 1934. Three years later, she gave the world “Out of Africa,” a memoir that made her a superstar in the literary world.

It was also a book that would create many headaches in Hollywood. For years, screenwriters tried to adapt it, only to throw up their hands. Sydney Pollack, the man who would eventually direct the 1985 film of OUT OF AFRICA, explained why in the introduction to “Out of Africa: The Shooting Script,” published in 1986:

“The central problem we faced in bringing Dinesen’s book to the screen was its lack of conventional narrative,” Pollack wrote. “… ‘Out of Africa’ is deeply affecting but very elusive material on which to base a screenplay.”

Screenwriter Kurt Luedtke eventually combined some of the anecdotes from Dinesen’s episodic book with information drawn from Judith Dinesen’s “Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller” and background details gleaned from Dinesen’s letters to friends and family. But it’s likely no one will ever know the complete truth about Dinesen and her relationships since she had a penchant for romanticizing and simplifying the truth about her life. Although Dinesen suggested she had enjoyed a lengthy love affair with hunter and aviator Denys Finch Hatton – a romance that is central to Pollack’s film – some Dinesen experts have claimed Finch Hatton was homosexual and more of a close friend to Dinesen than a lover.

Regardless of its accuracy as a biography, OUT OF AFRICA the film is a compelling portrait of a strong-minded woman learning to see the world through new eyes. When we first meet Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep), she seems to be a scheming, restless noblewoman, dying to escape from her tradition-minded family, yet clinging to the trappings of European elegance, such as Limoges china and stylish lacy hats. Over time, she finds the courage to break off relations with her amiable but unfaithful husband (Klaus Maria Brandauer) and to develop an appreciation of Africa’s natural beauty and the ways of its people. This understanding is encouraged by Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), the adventurer and safari guide whose unwillingness to lead a conventional (or even monogamous) life creates friction in his passionate relationship with Karen.

The real-life Finch Hatton was British and Redford reportedly had planned to play the character with an English accent, until Pollack urged him to reconsider, telling him that audiences would find it distracting. However, Streep, who was known as The Woman of a Thousand Voices in the 1980s, adopted a flawless Danish accent that galvanized Karen as a stranger in a strange land, who has little in common with the fussy British women who are supposed to be her friends. Although Redford got top-billing, OUT OF AFRICA is unarguably Streep’s show all the way, and her performance is full of lovely surprises, from the delicacy of her stealthy approach to Finch Hatton to the ferocity in here eyes when she brandishes a whip to fend off an attacking lion.

Streep was nominated as best actress, but lost to Geraldine Page in THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL. But OUT OF AFRICA was heavily honored on Oscar night, winning seven awards, including best picture, best director for Pollack and best adapted screenplay for Luedtke (who has only penned one other screenplay since, for the duller-than-dishwater Harrison Ford/Kristin Scott Thomas vehicle RANDOM HEARTS). John Barry's luscious score also earned an Oscar and became a top-selling soundtrack.

Other big winners: African tourism and Banana Republic. OUT OF AFRICA was a box office smash that inspired fashion trends, as designers conjured up safari-style clothing to cash in on the film’s popularity  Some of those outfits undoubtedly were worn by travelers who booked African vacations after swooning over the scenery in the film. (James Sanford)

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