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 Isak Dinesen
Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Story Teller
by Judith Thurman
Silence Will Speak
by Errol Trzebinski
Music by John Barry
Cinematography David Watkin
Edited by Fredric Steinkamp
William Steinkamp
Pembroke Herring
Sheldon Kahn
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 18, 1985 (1985-12-18)
Running time
161 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $28 million[1]
Box office $128.5 million[2]

Out of Africa is a 1985 American epic 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 Danish 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/actress Iman as Mariammo. It was filmed in 1984.


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, he 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 from her expectations, 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 she is distressed when she learns of his extramarital affairs. To make matters worse, Karen contracts syphilis from her philandering husband (at the time, cures were uncertain) 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. No longer able to have children of her own due to the effects of the syphilis, she 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. Her friendship with Denys Finch Hatton develops further.

Despite her expectation and desire to have what begins as an affair turn into a lasting relationship, Karen realizes that Denys is as impossible to domesticate as the wild animals he hunts and often refers to. Although he moves into Karen's house, he criticizes her desire to "own" things; this implies even people. He 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 grudgingly continues in the relationship, knowing it will not ever be official. He decides to invite Felicity, a female mutual acquaintance on one of his safaris, which exceeds Karen's ability to tolerate his justifications for his lifestyle and behavior. Karen asks him to accede to her request to not take her along, and he refuses. She asks him to move out. The plantation finally yields a good harvest at long last, but a devastating fire breaks out in the processing shed, and the crops and all of the factory equipment are destroyed.

Now financially broke, and 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 enjoy a drink and a dance. He asks her if he might escort her to Mombasa in his biplane to begin her journey home. She agrees and he promises to return after a few days. However, Denys never returns, and Karen is told that his plane has crashed and that 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 became 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 Finch Hatton'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]

Klaus Maria Brandauer was director Sydney Pollack's only choice for Bror Blixen, even having trouble to pick a replacement when it appeared that Brandauer's schedule would prevent him from participating. Robert Redford became Finch Hatton once Redford thought he had a charm no British actor could convey. Meryl Streep landed the part by showing up for her meeting with the director wearing a low-cut blouse and a push-up bra, as Pollack had originally thought the actress did not have enough sex appeal for the role.[4]

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, and a recreation of 1910s Nairobi built across a year. The scenes depicting the Government House were shot at Nairobi School with the administration block providing a close replica of British colonial governors' residences.[5] 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 Karen 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 Denys and Karen'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 Finch Hatton's child, but she suffered from miscarriages. Furthermore, Denys was an English aristocrat, 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, he did so fully intending to play him as an Englishman. This conception was later reversed by the director Sydney Pollack, who thought it would be distracting for the audience. 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 Kenyan 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. The passenger car was actually a small combination office / sleeper that was originally used by supervisors during the building of the Uganda Railway and was the actual car from which a man was taken and killed by a marauding lioness.

The film shows Karen reciting from To An Athlete Dying Young at Finch Hatton's funeral but there is no mention of this in the book.


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.[6] 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.[7]

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. "Mozart Clarinet Concerto K622" Adagio (2:49) by Jack Brymer and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Neville Marriner
  5. "Under the Sun" (4:21)
  6. "Safari" (2:44)
  7. "Karen's Journey/Siyawe" (4:50) contains traditional African music
  8. "Flying Over Africa" (3:25)
  9. "I Had a Compass from Karen (Karen's Theme II)" (2:31)
  10. "Alone on the Farm" (1:56)
  11. "Let the Rest of the World Go By" (3:17) – by Ernest R. Ball and J. Keirn Brennan
  12. "If I Know a Song of Africa (Karen's Theme III)" (2:12)
  13. "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. "Under the Sun" (4:21)
  7. Mozart Clarinet Concerto K622" Adagio (7:39) by Jack Brymer and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Neville Marriner
  8. "Karen's Journey Starts" (3:41)
  9. "Karen's Journey Ends" (1:00)
  10. "Karen's Return from Border" (1:33)
  11. "Karen Builds a School" (1:19)
  12. "Harvest" (2:02)
  13. "Sunset" (7:19)
  14. "Love" (8:16)
  15. "Safari" (2:35)
  16. "Karen's Journey/Siyawe" (4:50)
  17. "I Had a Compass from Karen (Karen's Theme II)" (2:31)
  18. "Flight Over Africa" (2:41)
  19. "Beach at Night" (0:58)
  20. "You'll Keep Me Then" (0:58)
  21. "Let the Rest of the World Go By" (3:17)
  22. "If I Knew a Song of Africa" (2:23)
  23. "You Are Karen M'Sabu" (1:17)
  24. "Petting my Cow (4:34)
  25. "Out of Africa (End Credits)" (2:49)

Technical notes

In the Director's Notes on the DVD of Pollack's 2005 film The Interpreter,[8] Pollack himself stated that he filmed Out of Africa and his later films of that decade in 1.85:1 widescreen; and that it "...probably was one I should have had in widescreen" (i.e. 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.

By 1985, there were no steam locomotives still operational in Kenya. Therefore, rather than return one to operating condition as was done to three, twenty years later, the producers and their advisors decided to assemble a simulated steam powered train using a non operational steam locomotive that was, instead, pushed from behind by an available diesel locomotive. The diesel was coupled directly behind the steam locomotive and disguised as a box car. Due to mechanical problems, this covering had to be disassembled and reassembled to effect repairs during filming. The steam locomotive burned rubber tires in its firebox for smoke effect, and liquid oxygen was used as an oxidizer to give the appearance of steam escaping from the cylinders of the originally coal-fired locomotive.

The steam locomotive, a former Tanganyika Railways DL class 4-8-0 number 301 built by Beyer Peacock in England – and 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.


Out of Africa has received mixed reviews from critics, where today the film currently holds a 56% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 44 reviews with the consensus: "Though lensed with stunning cinematography and featuring a pair of winning performances from Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, Out of Africa suffers from excessive length and glacial pacing." Out of Africa is one of only a handful of films -- the others are The Greatest Show on Earth, Cimarron, The Broadway Melody, and Cavalcade -- that won the Academy Award for Best Picture but currently have "rotten" (below 60%) scores on Rotten Tomatoes.[9][10]

Awards and honours

Academy Awards

The film won seven Academy Awards and was nominated in a further four categories.[11][12]

Golden Globes

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


American Film Institute recognition

See also


  1. Harmetz, Aljean (November 29, 1985). "At the Movies". The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  2. Box Office Mojo (Out Of Africa)
  3. Out of Africa, p. 252
  4. "Song of Africa", Out of Africa DVD
  5. "The thinking behind Nairobi's grand schools". www.nation.co.ke. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  6. AFI's 100 Years Of Film Scores at AFI.com
  7. Out of Africa soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com
  8. The Interpreter, DVD#25835, Universal Studios
  9. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/guides/best_and_worst_best_pictures/
  10. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/broadway_melody/
  11. "The 58th Academy Awards (1986) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  12. "NY Times: Out of Africa". NY Times. Retrieved 2009-01-01.
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