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Out of Africa (film)

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Out of Africa
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySydney Pollack
Screenplay byKurt Luedtke
Based onOut of Africa
by Isak Dinesen
Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Story Teller
by Judith Thurman
Silence Will Speak
by Errol Trzebinski
Produced bySydney Pollack
Kim Jorgensen
CinematographyDavid Watkin
Edited byFredric Steinkamp
William Steinkamp
Pembroke Herring
Sheldon Kahn
Music byJohn Barry
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 18, 1985 (1985-12-18)
Running time
161 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$31 million[1]
Box office$227.5 million[2]

Out of Africa is a 1985 American epic romantic drama film directed and produced by Sydney Pollack, and starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. The film is based loosely on the 1937 autobiographical book Out of Africa written by Isak Dinesen (the pseudonym of Danish author Karen Blixen), with additional material from Dinesen's 1960 book Shadows on the Grass and other sources.

The book was adapted into a screenplay by the writer Kurt Luedtke, and filmed in 1984. Streep played Karen Blixen, Redford played Denys Finch Hatton and Klaus Maria Brandauer played Baron Bror Blixen. Others in the film include 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 and actress Iman as Mariammo. The film received generally positive reviews from critics. It was also a commercial success and won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Pollack.


Karen Blixen recalls living in Africa, where she moved in 1913 as a wealthy Dane, about to marry.

After being spurned by a Swedish nobleman, she proposes a marriage of convenience to his brother, Baron Bror Blixen. They prepare to move to Nairobi, British East Africa, where Bror is to set up a dairy ranch with Karen's money. She will join him a few months later, at which time they will marry. En route to Nairobi, Karen's train is hailed by a big-game hunter named Denys Finch Hatton, who knows Bror and entrusts her with his ivory haul.

Farah, the Somali headman Bror hired, greets Karen at the railway station. She is taken to the Muthaiga Club. She enters the men-only salon seeking her husband but is asked to leave. Karen and Bror immediately marry, and she becomes Baroness Blixen.

Karen learns that Bror has changed their plan and instead bought a coffee farm, but it is at too high an elevation to be very productive. Karen needs Bror's help managing the farm, but he is more interested in guiding big-game hunting safaris.

Karen comes to love Africa and its people. She looks after the Kikuyu people who are squatting on her land, establishes a school for them, helps with their medical needs, and arbitrates their disputes. Meanwhile, she attempts to build a formal European homelife equal to other nearby upper-class colonists. She befriends a young woman, Felicity (whose character is based on a young Beryl Markham). Eventually, Karen and Bror's mutual feelings deepen and they consummate their marriage. However, Bror continues pursuing other women. To fill her evenings, Karen makes up imaginative stories to entertain visitors.

As WWI reaches East Africa, the colonists form a militia led by colonial patriarch Lord Delamere, and which includes Denys and Bror. A military expedition searches for forces from the neighboring German colony of German East Africa. Responding to the militia's need for supplies, Karen leads a difficult expedition to find them and returns safely.

When Karen contracts syphilis from Bror, she returns to Denmark for treatment and recuperation while Bror manages the farm in her absence. When Karen returns, Bror resumes his safari work. They live separately after she discovers he is still a philanderer. Later, Karen and Denys share an ambivalent kiss at a New Year's party.

The relationship between Karen and Denys develops, and he comes to live with her. Denys acquires a Gipsy Moth biplane and often takes Karen flying. Karen and Bror divorce when Bror wants to marry another woman. Karen wants her and Denys to solidify their relationship, though he prefers his autonomy. When Karen learns Denys is taking Felicity on a private safari, she confronts him about his refusing a monogamous relationship. He assures Karen he only wants her but feels marriage is immaterial. This eventually drives them apart and, refusing to meet Karen's ultimatum not to take Felicity flying, he moves out.

The farm eventually yields a good harvest, but a fire destroys it and the factory, forcing Karen to sell out. Before leaving Kenya for Denmark, she appeals to the incoming governor to provide land for her Kikuyu workers and sells most of her remaining possessions at a rummage sale. Denys visits the now-empty house. He says he no longer feels comfortable being alone and that his feelings for her have changed. He asks to join her on her journey back to Mombasa.

Denys departs for a safari scouting trip in his airplane but will fly Karen to Mombasa when he returns; Karen will then continue on to Denmark. Shortly after, Bror arrives to tell Karen that Denys' biplane crashed in Tsavo. During Denys' funeral, Karen recites an excerpt from an A. E. Housman poem about a lauded athlete who, like Denys, died young and was not fated to decline into old age. Before departing, Karen goes to the Muthaiga Club to arrange forwarding her mail. The members, having come to admire her, invite her into the men-only salon for a toast. At the railway station, she gives Farah the compass that Denys had given to her and asks him to say her name, so she can hear his voice one last time. Sometime later, Farah writes to Karen in Denmark, telling her that a pair of lions often visit Denys' grave.

The ending on-screen narrative notes that Karen became an author under the pen name, Isak Dinesen. Works include her memoir about Africa, Out of Africa. The film opened with its first line. Karen never returned to Africa.



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 were 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, with Pollack thinking Redford 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] Before it went to Meryl Streep, the role of Karen Blixen was offered to Audrey Hepburn.[5]

Out of Africa was filmed using descendants of several people of the Kikuyu tribe who are named in the book, including the grandson of chief Kinyanjui who played his grandfather. Much of it was filmed in the Karen / Lang'ata area near the actual Ngong Hills outside Nairobi. The Chyulu Hills stood in for the less picturesque Ngong Hills. As Karen's farmhouse was at the time of filming a part of a local nursing school, the filming took place in her nearby first house "Mbogani", which is a dairy today. Her actual house, known as "Mbagathi" is now the Karen Blixen Museum. A substantial part of the filming took place in the Scott house and in a recreation of 1910s Nairobi built in an area of unoccupied land in Langata.

The scenes depicting the Government House were shot at Nairobi School with the administration block providing a close replica of British colonial governors' residences.[6] The train sequences were filmed along a section of abandoned track some 97 km (60 mi) from Nairobi. The scenes set in Denmark were actually filmed in Surrey, England.

Historical differences[edit]

Although bearing the name of Dinesen's book, the picture was actually taken from two other books (not written by her) as well. It quotes the start of the Dinesen's 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].

The film omits much of Dinesen's book, such as a devastating locust swarm, some local shootings, and her writings about the German army. The production also plays down the size of her 4,000 acres (16 km2) farm, which had 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 movie 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 that Karen was pregnant at least once with Finch Hatton's child but suffered from miscarriages. Furthermore, Denys was an English aristocrat and son of 13th Earl of Winchilsea, but this fact was minimized 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. Pollack, however, felt an English accent would be distracting for the audience, and told Redford to use his real 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 traveling 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.


Out of Africa
Soundtrack album by
Released1985 (US) / 1986 (UK)
Length12 at 33:27
18 at 38:42
LabelMCA 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 the second movement 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.[7] The soundtrack was first released through MCA Records in 1985 and features 12 tracks of score at a running time of just over thirty-three minutes. In 1987, a Special Edition was issued that included the song "The Music of Goodbye (Love Theme)" by Melissa Manchester & Al Jarreau. 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.[8]


Chart (1986) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report)[9] 29


Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[10] Gold 35,000^
France (SNEP)[11] Gold 100,000*
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[12] Platinum 100,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[13] Silver 60,000*
United States (RIAA)[14] Gold 500,000^

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Technical notes[edit]

In the Director's Notes on the DVD of Pollack's 2005 film The Interpreter,[15] 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, due to the rise of pan and scan which had affected the compositions of many anamorphic movies, until his last movie, The Interpreter, in 2005.


Critical reception[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 62% based on 90 reviews, with an average rating of 6.90/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "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."[16] Metacritic reports a score of 69 out of 100 based on 18 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[17]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four and called it "one of the great recent epic romances," adding, "What we have here is an old-fashioned, intelligent, thoughtful love story, told with enough care and attention that we really get involved in the passions among the characters."[18] Vincent Canby of The New York Times described it as "a big, physically elaborate but wispy movie" with Redford's character "a total cipher, and a charmless one at that. It's not Mr. Redford's fault. There's no role for him to act."[19] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, and declared: "My basic problem with this otherwise sumptuous and well-acted film is that I never was able to accept Redford in character ... He seems distant to the point of distraction. He is not convincing in his period outfits. He looks and acts as if he just walked out of the safari fitting room at Abercrombie & Fitch."[20] David Ansen of Newsweek wrote that the film was "well worth the wait," calling it "a sprawling but always intelligent romantic epic that depicts Karen Blixen's struggles to hold on to both the man and the land she loves and cannot possess."[21]

Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "seems to be just the thing for famished culture mavens at Christmastime. Unfortunately, and through no fault of Meryl Streep, there doesn't seem to be enough electricity generated out there in Africa to power a love story 2½ hours long".[22] Variety found that the film "rarely really comes to life except when Redford is around, which unfortunately is not often in the first hour," but once Streep and Redford get together it becomes "a wonderful romance, probably Redford's best since The Way We Were".[23]

Pauline Kael of The New Yorker described the film as "unsatisfying" and wrote that Streep is "animated in the early scenes; she's amusing when she acts ditsy, and she has some oddly affecting moments. Her character doesn't deepen though, or come to mean more to us, and Redford doesn't give out with anything for her to play against."[24] Paul Attanasio of The Washington Post stated that the film "has little in the way of narrative drive" and "rarely seems more than an elevated form of tourism."[25]

Reviewing the film in 2009, James Berardinelli wrote: "Watching Out of Africa a quarter of a century after its release, it's almost impossible to guess how it won the Oscar for Best Picture ... Sydney Pollack's direction is quietly competent and the acting by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford is top notch. But the lazy story is little more than an ordinary melodrama that simmers without ever reaching a boil. To tell the truth, during the entirety of the movie's nearly three-hour running length, I was more interested in the scenery and Barry's music than I was in the characters."[26]

Box office[edit]

The film was the fifth-highest grossing film of 1985 in the United States and Canada with a gross of $87 million.[2] It grossed $227.5 million worldwide[2] and was the second highest-grossing film in Germany with a gross of $23 million.[27]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[28][29] Best Picture Sydney Pollack Won
Best Director Won
Best Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Kurt Luedtke Won
Best Art Direction Art Direction: Stephen B. Grimes;
Set Decoration: Josie MacAvin
Best Cinematography David Watkin Won
Best Costume Design Milena Canonero Nominated
Best Film Editing Fredric Steinkamp, William Steinkamp, Pembroke J. Herring, and Sheldon Kahn Nominated
Best Original Score John Barry Won
Best Sound Chris Jenkins, Gary Alexander, Larry Stensvold, and Peter Handford Won
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Fredric Steinkamp, William Steinkamp, Pembroke J. Herring, and Sheldon Kahn Nominated
BMI Film & TV Awards Film Music Award John Barry Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Klaus Maria Brandauer Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Kurt Luedtke Won
Best Cinematography David Watkin Won
Best Costume Design Milena Canonero Nominated
Best Original Music John Barry Nominated
Best Sound Tom McCarthy Jr., Peter Handford, and Chris Jenkins Won
British Society of Cinematographers Awards Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film David Watkin Won
César Awards Best Foreign Film Sydney Pollack Nominated
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Best Foreign Producer Nominated
Best Foreign Director Nominated
Best Foreign Actor Robert Redford Nominated
Best Foreign Actress Meryl Streep Won
Best Foreign Screenplay Kurt Luedtke Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Sydney Pollack Nominated
DVD Exclusive Awards Best DVD Audio Commentary Sydney Pollack (for the Collector's Edition) Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Won
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Klaus Maria Brandauer Won
Best Director – Motion Picture Sydney Pollack Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Kurt Luedtke Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture John Barry Won
Golden Screen Awards Won
Guild of German Art House Cinemas Awards Foreign Film Sydney Pollack Won
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated
Joseph Plateau Awards Best Score John Barry Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
Best Supporting Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer Won
London Critics Circle Film Awards Special Achievement Award John Barry Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Runner-up
Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
Best Cinematography David Watkin Won
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Sydney Pollack Won
Best Foreign Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 2nd Place
Best Supporting Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer Won
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Supporting Actor 4th Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film 3rd Place
Best Actress Meryl Streep 2nd Place
Best Supporting Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer Won
Best Cinematographer David Watkin Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Kurt Luedtke Nominated

American Film Institute lists:


  1. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (November 29, 1985). "At the Movies". The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Out of Africa at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ Out of Africa, p. 252
  4. ^ "Song of Africa", Out of Africa DVD
  5. ^ "Anna Cataldi | Out of Africa". Beautiful Humans. 2020-01-14. Retrieved 2023-10-10.
  6. ^ "The thinking behind Nairobi's grand schools". www.nation.co.ke. Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  7. ^ AFI's 100 Years Of Film Scores Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine at AFI.com
  8. ^ Out of Africa soundtrack review at Filmtracks.com
  9. ^ Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 284. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  10. ^ "Majors". Billboard. 15 November 1986. p. A-10. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  11. ^ "French album certifications – B.O.F – Out of Africa" (in French). Syndicat National de l'Édition Phonographique. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  12. ^ Salaverrie, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (PDF) (in Spanish) (1st ed.). Madrid: Fundación Autor/SGAE. p. 961. ISBN 84-8048-639-2. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  13. ^ "British album certifications – Original Soundtrack – Out of Africa". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  14. ^ "American album certifications – John Barry – Out of Africa". Recording Industry Association of America.
  15. ^ The Interpreter, DVD#25835, Universal Studios
  16. ^ "Out of Africa (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved August 10, 2023.
  17. ^ "Out of Africa Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 20, 1985). "Out of Africa". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  19. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 18, 1985). "Screen: Out of Africa." The New York Times. C17.
  20. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 20, 1985). "Redford mars the beauty of 'Out of Africa'". Chicago Tribune. Section 7, p. A, M.
  21. ^ Ansen, David (December 23, 1985). "Paradise Remembered". Newsweek. p. 72.
  22. ^ Benson, Sheila (December 18, 1985). "Two Women of Substance in Unlikely Settings." Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 1.
  23. ^ "Film Reviews: Out of Africa". Variety. December 11, 1985. 17.
  24. ^ Kael, Pauline (December 30, 1985). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 67, 68.
  25. ^ Attanasio, Paul (December 20, 1985). "'Out of Africa': Redford & Streep in a Tropical Tupor." The Washington Post. C4.
  26. ^ Berardinelli, James (May 28, 2009). "Out of Africa". Reelviews. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  27. ^ "Pollack: From 'Eyes' To 'Hearts'". Variety. October 11, 1999. p. 28.
  28. ^ "The 58th Academy Awards (1986) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  29. ^ "NY Times: Out of Africa". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-02-17. Retrieved 2009-01-01.

External links[edit]