GenreAdventure, Drama, History Music directorMichael Small CountryUnited States
Release dateFebruary 23, 1990 Based onBurton and Speke
by [William Harrison (author) WriterWilliam Harrison (novel), William Harrison (screenplay), Bob Rafelson (screenplay) CastPatrick Bergin (Richard Francis Burton), Richard E. Grant (Larry Oliphant), John Savident (Lord Murchison), Bernard Hill (Dr. David Livingstone), Iain Glen (John Hanning Speke), Fiona Shaw (Isabel Arundell) Similar moviesMadagascar: Escape 2 Africa, The Lion King 1½, The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride, George of the Jungle, The Jewel of the Nile, The Ghost and the Darkness
TaglineTwo strangers made friends by a savage land. Two friends made enemies by the civilized world.
Mountains of the Moon is a 1990 Rankcolor 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. Delroy Lindo made an early film appearance as an African native the adventurers meet.
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. A first-time epic for Rafelson, it opened to positive reviews.
Mountains of the moon
Exploratory adventures of 1857, Sir Richard Burton (Patrick Bergin) and John Hanning Speke (Iain Glen), try to discover the true source of the Nile river.
Patrick Bergin as Richard Francis Burton
Iain Glen as John Hanning Speke
Richard E. Grant as Larry Oliphant
Fiona Shaw as Isabel Arundell (Mrs Burton as from 1861)
John Savident as Lord Murchison
James Villiers as Lord Oliphant
Adrian Rawlins as Edward
Peter Vaughan as Lord Houghton
Delroy Lindo as Mabruki
Bernard Hill as Dr. David Livingstone
Matthew Marsh as William
Richard Caldicot as Lord John Russell
Christopher Fulford as Herne
Garry Cooper as Stroyan
Roshan Seth as Ben Amir
Omar Sharif as Arab chief in Cairo
Paul Onsongo as Sidi Bombay
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.
Peter Travers, writing in Rolling Stone, called the film "an occasion", adding that "In the honorable tradition of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia and John Huston's Man Who Would Be King, Mountains is an epic of sweep and intimacy. Rafelson's fondness for breathtaking vistas sometimes slows the pacing to Masterpiece Theatre speed, but his commitment to stimulate the mind along with the senses fires the film." Using adjectives such as "fascinating, magnificent, refreshing", Siskel & Ebert gave the film two thumbs up. Later, in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert wrote: "Mountains of the Moon is completely absorbing. It tells its story soberly and intelligently, and with quiet style. It doesn't manufacture false thrills or phony excitement. It's the kind of movie that sends you away from the screen filled with curiosity to know more about this man Burton." In Newsweek, critic Jack Kroll wrote, "The exploits of Sir Richard Francis Burton make Lawrence of Arabia look like a tourist. . . . From scene to scene this film grips you as few movies do, moving between Africa and England to spotlight an extraordinary range of characters in both 'primitive' and 'civilized' cultures: from the African tribal chiefs, mild or murderous, to the nabobs of the Royal Geographical Society, honest or treacherous."
The film depicts Isabel Arundell coming across a lewdly illustrated copy of Burton's translation of The Perfumed Garden in the mid-1850s, before they married. This work, however, was first published over 30 years later in 1886.
At a dinner party, Burton tells his future in-laws that he speaks 23 languages. At that point in his life, however, the number would have been much smaller. He states that he has "read Confucius, the Koran and the Kabbalah in their original manuscripts", but he never mastered a Chinese language and did not learn Hebrew until much later in life.