Meryl Streep as Karen in Out of Africa (1985)

From Africa With Love

I am so torn when it comes to "Out of Africa" because visually it is great, the musical score is beautiful and unsurprisingly with a cast lead by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford the performances are great. But then there is the storyline adapted from Karen Blixen's (written under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen) own story about her time in Kenya, her marriage, illness, the struggle to keep her coffee plantation going and her relationship with big game hunter Denys. Now I am sure that Blixen's story of life in Kenya is fascinating and hope her book goes into a lot more detail of the struggles but "Out of Africa" doesn't, instead we have this romance in Africa as Karen falls for Denys. As a romance it is sweepingly beautiful if a little passionless but I would rather have known more about Blixen and the legacy she left which made her and her story so important rather than the romance.

After a failed relationship with his brother Karen Dinesen (Meryl Streep - Plenty) becomes engaged to Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, (Klaus Maria Brandauer) a deal which means he got his hands on money and Karen got a title as they moved to Africa to start a new life on their own coffee plantation. But with Bror preferring to go off hunting, both animals and women as he was prone to infidelity, Karen is left to deal with making the plantation work that is until she is struck down with syphilis. After a spell convalescing back in Denmark she returns to the plantation and with her marriage over she finds her friendship with hunter Denys (Robert Redford - The Natural) growing stronger.

Robert Redford as Denys in Out of Africa (1985)

So there is no denying that "Out of Africa" looks and sounds amazing and has a real epic feel to it. The various shots of Africa, from getting close to lions to a plane flying over a lake of flamingos is all breath taking and when matched up to John Barry's score it is awesome. And taking into account that the movie focuses on the relationship between Karen and Denys the framing off their scenes together is also beautiful, be it lit by sunshine or soft and intimate when close up. As I said from a visual perspective you cannot fault "Out of Africa".

But here is my gripe because whilst I had never heard of Karen Blixen before watching "Out of Africa" her story seems to be a fascinating one of a woman pushing the limits at a time when women were meant to stay in the shadows. Everything about the story screams tale of a strong woman, from dealing with being diagnosed with syphilis, running the plantation with out Bror's help to leading the way for young African's from the tribes to be educated. In fact a Nairobi suburb is named after her so obviously what she did alongside becoming an author must be notable. Yet what we have in "Out of Africa" is a movie which focuses on her romance and whilst good I would rather have watched a movie about the woman and her achievements.

Anyway as to the romance, well it is a touching relationship which formed between Karen and Denys, and with it shrouded in beautiful cinematography it looks glorious. It is also pretty passionless, and I don't mean that it is lacking in sex but it is all quite stand-off ish, Karen looks wistfully at Denys he smiles back. In a way it lacks chemistry which may seem a daft thing to say when I also say that Meryl Streep and Robert Redford play their characters well but the spark between them never manifests itself. Oh there is plenty of sunlit loving looks but it never goes beyond just looking romantic.

And that is why "Out of Africa" leaves me torn because visually it is great but the actual romantic storyline failed to capture my heart as much as it did my eyes. So what this all boils down to is that if you want something beautifully romantic with epic cinematography then "Out of Africa" will be a joy to watch. But if you want something more real or something about the life of Karen Blixen rather than just this romance you will be left slightly disappointed.