• Synopsis
  • Reviews
  • Awards
  • Credits
  • Synopsis

    In the 1850’s two British Officers, Capt. Richard Burton and Lt. John Speke set out on a spectacular adventure to discover the source of the Nile.

    They are warned that great dangers await them but against all odds they push deeper and deeper into the magnificent, untamed African wilderness, where no Western man had ever gone. As the difficult journey takes its toil, Burton and Speke forge a strong bond. A bond that one will eventually betray. History will be the judge as the two intrepid explorers venture into realms perilous to both body and soul in their quest for the secret of the Nile.

  • Reviews

    Mountains of the Moon completely disarmed me when I saw it twenty-four years ago, and I included it in my book Leonard Maltin’s 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen. It’s a sleeper that’s still waiting to be discovered. Nothing in the portfolio of talented writer-director Bob Rafelson would lead anyone to expect a film as grand, or far-reaching in its ambitions, as this. A handsomely-mounted, epic saga, photographed by the great Roger Deakins, it turns back the clock to a time when the English-speaking world was captivated by daring explorers like Sir Richard Burton. At a time when travel was arduous and methods of communication primitive, he didn’t hesitate to leave Victorian England, and his wife, behind to embark on bold, dangerous expeditions. (He had many other talents and interests, including linguistics and a fascination with erotica that inspired him to translate the Kama Sutra.) This film focuses on his search for the source of the Nile River in the mid-1800s. Patrick Bergin, who should have springboarded to stardom on the strength of this performance, is a charismatic Burton, with Iain Glen equally well-cast as John Hanning Speke, the ambitious dilettante who accompanies him.

    Historians have speculated about the relationship between these two disparate men—one a genuine adventurer, the other an opportunist—who eventually became bitter enemies. Each man also flirted with homosexual desire for the other, although to what degree, we’ll never know.

    Because the screenplay for Mountains of the Moon is based in part on the men’s surviving journals, there are vivid, eye-filling details of their exploits in Africa. Their groundbreaking exploration of that continent is a major element of the film. It is also inspired by a biographical novel written by William Harrison, who collaborated with Rafelson on the script, so we cannot take everything we see as gospel truth. But what makes this film so special is that it manages to embrace the sweep of an epic with the compelling details of a highly personal story. It isn’t an old-fashioned “boys’ adventure” like King Solomon’s Mines, but a realistic drama about the hardships these men faced on their journeys, and the equally trying problems they had to confront upon their return.

    It certainly captures the spirit of its time, when men like Burton defied the constraints of Victorian behavior and Speke sought personal gain in a way that seems curiously modern.

    Leonard Maltin

    Rafelson has always been attracted to the outsider, maverick heroes and in Burton he has chosen one of the great mavericks in history. Patrick Burton rises to the challenge with a performance that is complex and charismatic. Even more impressive is Iain Glen, playing the flawed, tormented Speke, a social misfit despite having been born into the English establishment. Here is a young British screen actor who should be in the running for the Oscars… The superb action sequences and landscape photography are on a scale not seen since ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

    The Mail, Christopher Tookey

    This is a visually impressive and imaginatively absorbing film. The performances are, without exception, excellent.

    Hugo Davenport, The Daily Telegraph

    The magic blazes in the wilderness: a desert attack of shocking brutality; a fevered hallucination; an etiolated Speke strapping on his courage like a foreign uniform and tramping off into the next mirage… ‘Mountains Of The Moon’ is re-landscaping of a vivid, enjoyable kind and the best picture book costume drama this Easter’.

    The Financial Times, Nigel

  • Awards

    1991 Evening Standard British Film Awards

    • Won Best Actor – Iain Glen
  • Credits

    Patrick Bergin
    Richard Francis Burton
    Iain Glen
    John Hanning Speke
    Richard E. Grant
    Larry Oliphant
    Fiona Shaw
    Isabel Burton
    John Savident
    Lord Murchison
    James Villiers
    Lord Oliphant
    Adrian Rawlins
    Peter Vaughan
    Lord Houghton
    Delroy Lindo
    Bernard Hill
    Dr. David Livingstone
    Matthew Marsh
    Richard Caldicot
    Lord Russell
    Christopher Fulford
    Garry Cooper
    Roshan Seth
    Ben Amir
    Jimmy Gardner
    Doreen Mantle
    Mrs. Speke
    Anna Massey
    Mrs. Arundell
    Peter Eyre
    Norton Shaw
    Leslie Phillips
    Mr. Arundell
    Frances Cuka
    Lady Houghton
    Roger Ashton-Griffiths
    Lord Cowley
    Craig Crosbie
    Algernon Swinburne
    Paul Onsongo
    Sidi Bombay
    Lenny Juma
    Bheki Tonto Ngema
    Martin Okello
    Philip Voss
    Colonel Rigby
    Pip Torrens
    Lt. Hesketh
    Roger Rees
    Edgar Papworth, Artist
    Bob Rafelson
    William Harrison
    Bob Rafelson
    Daniel Melnick
    Roger Deakins



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