Out of Africa (film)

Out of Africa (film)
Out of Africa

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Produced by Sydney Pollack
Kim Jorgensen
Screenplay by Kurt Luedtke
Based on Out of Africa by
Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen)
Starring Robert Redford
Meryl Streep
Klaus Maria Brandauer
Music by John Barry
Cinematography David Watkin
Editing by Fredric Steinkamp
William Steinkamp
Pembroke Herring
Sheldon Kahn
Studio Mirage Enterprises
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s) December 18, 1985 (1985-12-18)
Running time 161 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $28 million[1]
Box office $128,499,205[2]

Out of Africa is a 1985 romantic drama film directed and produced by Sydney Pollack, and starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. The film is based loosely on the autobiographical book Out of Africa written by Isak Dinesen (the pseudonym of the author Karen Blixen), which was published in 1937, with additional material from Dinesen's book Shadows on the Grass and other sources. This film received 28 film awards, including seven Academy Awards.

The book was adapted into a screenplay by the writer Kurt Luedtke, and directed by the American Sydney Pollack. Streep played Karen Blixen; Redford played Denys Finch Hatton; and Klaus Maria Brandauer played Baron Bror Blixen. Others in the film included Michael Kitchen as Berkeley Cole; Malick Bowens as Farah; Stephen Kinyanjui as the Chief; Michael Gough as Lord Delamere; Suzanna Hamilton as Felicity, and the model Iman as Mariammo.



The story begins in 1913 in Denmark, when Karen Dinesen (a wealthy but unmarried woman) asks her friend Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) to enter into a marriage of convenience with her. Although Bror is a member of the aristocracy he is no longer financially secure, therefore agrees to the marriage and the two of them plan to move to Africa to begin a dairy farm.

Upon moving to British East Africa, Karen marries Bror in a brief ceremony, thus becoming Baroness Blixen. She meets and befriends various other colonial residents of the country, most of whom are British. She also meets Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), a local big-game hunter with whom she develops a close friendship. However, things turn out differently for her than anticipated, since Bror has used her money to purchase a coffee plantation rather than a dairy farm. He also shows little inclination to put any real work into it, preferring instead to become a game hunter. Although theirs was a marriage of convenience, Karen does eventually develop feelings for Bror, but is distressed when she learns of his extramarital affairs. To make matters worse, Karen contracts syphilis from her philandering husband (at the time a very dangerous disease) and is forced to return to Denmark for a long and difficult period of treatment using the then-new medicine Salvarsan. Bror agrees to look after the plantation in her absence.

After she has recovered and returns to Africa, the First World War is drawing to an end. However, it becomes clear that her marriage to the womanizing Bror has not changed and she eventually asks him to move out of their house. Her friendship with Denys then develops further and the two eventually become lovers. However, despite many unsuccessful attempts to turn their affair into a lasting relationship, she realizes that Denys is as impossible to own or tame as Africa itself. Denys prefers the simple, African customs of the free, nomadic life of the Maasai tribe on the open landscape, rather than the European customs of luxury, ownership and titles. Although, he moves into Karen's house, he criticizes her desire to "own" things; even people, refuses to commit to marriage or give up his free lifestyle and tells her that he will not love her more just because of a piece of paper. Karen begrudgingly accepts the situation. No longer able to have children of her own due to the effects of the syphilis, decides to open a school to teach reading, writing, arithmetic and also some European customs to the African tribal children of the area. However, her coffee plantation runs into financial difficulties and she is forced to rely on bank loans to make ends meet. Although it has taken years to cultivate, the plantation finally yields a good harvest, but a devastating fire breaks out on the plantation and the crop and all of the factory equipment are destroyed.

Now broke, and with her relationship with Denys over, Karen prepares to leave Africa to return home to Denmark, just as British East Africa is becoming Kenya Colony. She arranges to sell everything that she owns and empties the house of all her luxurious items for a rummage sale. In the now empty house, Denys visits her that night and the two of them have one last dance. He promises to return in a few days, to fly her to Mombasa in his biplane to begin her journey home. However, Denys never returns and Karen is told that his plane has crashed and he has been killed. Her loss now complete, Karen attends his funeral in the Ngong Hills. With Denys gone, Karen's head servant, Farah, takes her to the station, for the train to Mombasa.

Karen later becomes an author and a storyteller, writing about her experiences and letters in Africa, though she never returned there.



The film tells the story as a series of six loosely coupled episodes from Karen's life, intercut with her narration. The final two narrations, the first a reflection on Karen's experiences in Kenya and the second a description of Denys's grave, were taken from her book Out of Africa, while the others have been written for the film in imitation of her very lyrical writing style. The pace of this film is often rather slow, reflecting Blixen's book, "Natives dislike speed, as we dislike noise..."[3]

Out of Africa was filmed using descendants of several people of the Kikuyu tribe who are named in the book, near the actual Ngong Hills outside Nairobi, but not inside of Karen's (second) three-bedroom house "Mbagathi" (now the Karen Blixen Museum). The filming took place in her first house "Mbogani", close to the museum, which is a dairy today. A substantial part of the filming took place in the Scott house, which is still occupied. The scenes set in Denmark were actually filmed in Surrey, England.

Differences between the film and real life events

This film quotes the start of the book, "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills" [p. 3], and Denys recites, "He prayeth well that loveth well both man and bird and beast" from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which becomes the epitaph inscribed on Finch-Hatton's grave marker [p. 370].

This film differs significantly from the book, leaving out the devastating locust swarm, some local shootings, and Karen's writings about the German army. The production also downplays the size of her 4,000 acres (16 km2) farm, with 800 Kikuyu workers and an 18-oxen wagon. Scenes show Karen as owning only one dog, but actually, she had two similar dogs named Dawn and Dusk.

The film also takes liberties with Karen's and Denys's romance. They met at a hunting club, not in the plains. Denys was away from Kenya for two years on military assignment in Egypt, which is not mentioned. Denys took up flying and began to lead safaris after he moved in with Karen. The film also ignores the fact that Karen was pregnant at least once with Denys's child, but she suffered from miscarriages. Furthermore, Denys was decidedly English, but this fact was downplayed by the hiring of the actor Robert Redford, an inarguably All-American actor who had previously worked with Pollack. When Redford accepted the contract to play Finch Hatton, he did so fully intending to play him as an Englishman. This conception was later nixed by the director Sydney Pollack. Pollack thought that this would become too distracting for the audiences, with hearing Redford speak in an English accent. In fact, Redford reportedly had to re-record some of his lines from early takes in the filming, in which he still spoke with a trace of English accent.

The title scenes of the film show the main railway, from Mombasa to Nairobi, as travelling through the Great Rift Valley, on the steep back side of the actual Ngong Hills. However, the real railway track is located on the higher, opposite side of the Ngong Hills. Also, the railway line is surrounded mostly by denser, palm-tree jungles, or canyons, rather than wide, level areas of open bush country.


Out of Africa
Soundtrack album by John Barry
Released 1986
Recorded 1985
Genre Soundtrack
Length 12 at 33:27
18 at 38:42
Label MCA Records
Varèse Sarabande

The music for Out of Africa was composed and conducted by veteran English composer John Barry. The score included a number of outside pieces such as Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and African traditional songs. The soundtrack garnered Barry an Oscar for Best Original Score and sits in fifteenth place in the American Film Institute's list of top 25 American film scores.[4] The soundtrack was released through MCA Records and features 12 tracks of score at a running time of just over thirty-three minutes. A rerecording conducted by Joel McNeely and performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra was released in 1997 through Varèse Sarabande and features eighteen tracks of score at a running time just under thirty-nine minutes.[5]

MCA Records release

  1. "Main Title (I Had a Farm in Africa)" (3:14)
  2. "I'm Better at Hello (Karen's Theme I)" (1:18)
  3. "Have You Got a Story For Me" (1:14)
  4. "Concerto For Clarinet and Orchestra in A (K. 622)" (2:49) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
  5. "Safari" (2:44)
  6. "Karen's Journey/Siyawe" (4:50) contains traditional African music
  7. "Flying Over Africa" (3:25)
  8. "I Had a Compass From Denys (Karen's Theme II)" (2:31)
  9. "Alone on the Farm" (1:56)
  10. "Let the Rest of the World Go By" (3:17) - by Ernest R. Ball and J. Keirn Brennan
  11. "If I Know a Song of Africa (Karen's Theme III)" (2:12)
  12. "End Title (You Are Karen)" (4:01)

Varèse Sarabande Re-Recording

  1. "I Had a Farm (Main Title)" (3:12)
  2. "Alone on the Farm" (1:00)
  3. "Karen and Denys" (0:48)
  4. "Have You Got a Story For Me" (1:21)
  5. "I'm Better at Hello" (1:24)
  6. "Mozart: clarinet concerto in A Major: K622 (Adagio)" (7:39) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  7. "Karen's Journey Starts" (3:41)
  8. "Karen's Journey Ends" (1:00)
  9. "Karen's Return From Border" (1:33)
  10. "Karen Builds a School" (1:19)
  11. "Harvest" (2:02)
  12. "Safari" (2:35)
  13. "Flight Over Africa" (2:41)
  14. "Beach at Night" (0:58)
  15. "You'll Keep Me Then" (0:58)
  16. "If I Knew a Song of Africa" (2:23)
  17. "You Are Karen M'Sabu" (1:17)
  18. "Out of Africa (End Credits)" (2:49)

Technical notes

In the Director's Notes on the DVD[6] for The Interpreter, Sydney Pollack stated that he filmed Out of Africa and his later films of that decade in 1.85:1 matted widescreen; and that it "...probably was one I should have had in widescreen". By this he meant anamorphic 2.39:1 widescreen. In his director's notes, Pollack stated that prior to the filming of Out of Africa, he made motion pictures exclusively in the anamorphic 2.39:1 widescreen format and style, and that he did not resume the anamorphic 2.39:1 widescreen format until his movie, The Interpreter, in 2005.

In 1985, there were no steam locomotives still operational in Kenya. Therefore, the producers and their advisors decided to assemble a simulated steam train that was, instead, pushed from behind by an available diesel locomotive, which was directly behind the steam locomotive and disguised as a box car. Due to mechanical problems, this covering had to be disassembled and reassembled after repairs. The simulated steam locomotive burned rubber tires in its simulated boiler, and liquid oxygen was used as an oxidizer to give the appearance of a coal-fired boiler.

This replica of a steam locomotive - and also the passenger cars used during the filming - have been put on display in the Nairobi Railway Museum. The passenger car used by Streep's character was not a standard car but actually a supervisor's car from the days of the building of the East Africa Railway. This is exactly the same car mentioned in Patterson's "The Man-eaters of Tsavo" in which two of the three occupants were killed by a marauding lion. While formerly displayed in the museum, in its original colors and bearing a plaque referring to the event, the car is currently displayed using the later color scheme, as seen in the film. Due to daily rail traffic, the train footage had to be shot on an old spur line that had not been used for some thirty years.

Among the various props used in the movie, the compass that Redford gives to Streep was Denys Finch Hatton's actual compass. Unfortunately, it was stolen during the production. As guns (real, toys and replicas) are illegal in Kenya, Redford's papier mache pistol was confiscated at the end of production and has since been seen as a rental item in subsequent stage productions in Nairobi.

The film also features a de Havilland DH.60 Moth in the later scenes, the same type of airplane flown by Finch Hatton in real life.

Awards and honors

Academy Awards

The film won seven Academy Awards and was nominated in a further four categories.[7][8]

Golden Globes

The film won three Golden Globes (Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Original Score).


American Film Institute recognition


External links

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