Mountains of the Moon (film)

Mountains of the Moon is a 1990 biographical 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.

Mountains of the Moon
Mountains of the Moon movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBob Rafelson
Produced byDaniel Melnick
Screenplay byWilliam Harrison
Bob Rafelson
Based onBurton and Speke
1982 novel
by William Harrison
Music byMichael Small
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byThom Noble
Distributed byTriStar Pictures
Release date
  • February 23, 1990 (1990-02-23)
Running time
136 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million[1]
Box office$4,011,793[2]

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.

Plot summaryEdit

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.



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."[3] Using adjectives such as "fascinating, magnificent, refreshing", Siskel & Ebert gave the film two thumbs up.[4] 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."[5] 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."[6]

As of January 2020, Mountains of the Moon holds a rating of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 14 reviews.[7]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Mountains of the Moon (1990) - Box Office Mojo".
  3. ^ Travers, Peter (23 February 1990). "Mountains of the Moon". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Youtube: Siskel & Ebert - Mountains of the Moon/Where the Heart is (1990)". Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (23 March 1990). "Mountains of the Moon". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  6. ^ Jack Kroll, "In the heart of darkness," Newsweek, February 26, 1990
  7. ^


  • Edward Rice "Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: A Biography ", Da Capo Press (June 5, 2001)

External linksEdit