Mountains of the Moon (film)

Mountains of the Moon (film)

Mountains of the Moon is a 1990 theatrical film depicting the 1857-58 journey of Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke in their expedition to central Africa — the project that culminated in Speke's discovery of the source of the Nile River. The expedition led to a bitter rivalry between the two men. The film stars Patrick Bergin as Burton and Iain Glen as Speke.

The film was directed by Bob Rafelson, for whom this was something of a dream project. It was based on the novel Burton and Speke by William Harrison. The narrative concentrates on the relationship between the two very different men.



The original music was composed by Michael Small, who incorporated genuine traditional African music into a traditional orchestral palette. The soundtrack album was released on Polydor Records, but is long out of print. There are two major themes, one for Burton and the other for Africa. There is also a love theme for Burton's relationship to his wife Isabel Burton (portrayed in the movie by Fiona Shaw).


The film was released in a pan and scan VHS edition from a widescreen laserdisc and is currently available as both a pan and scan and widescreen DVD.


Even though conveying the basic issues correctly, the film displays several inaccuracies. For example, the film portrays Speke as initially wanting to wait for Burton's return before presenting their findings in front of the Royal Geographic Society. Yet, available evidence suggests that Speke rushed back to England with the explicit intention to present their findings without Burton and taking credit for it. Moreover, the epilogues claims that Burton and Isabel were not separated for the next 30 years. This is incorrect. On his first consular appointment (which was on Fernando Po off the coast of West Africa and not in Brazil, as the film also claims incorrectly) he lived apart from Isabel who stayed behind in England. Lastly, the film claims in the epilogue that Speke was correct in his assessment of Lake Victoria being the source of the Nile. However, Lake Victoria provides only one of several feeder rivers into the Nile.


E. Rice's Biography of Burton: Edward Rice "Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: A Biography ", Da Capo Press (June 5, 2001)

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