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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.

Out of Africa
Out of africa poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySydney Pollack
Produced bySydney Pollack
Kim Jorgensen
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
Music byJohn Barry
CinematographyDavid Watkin
Edited byFredric Steinkamp
William Steinkamp
Pembroke Herring
Sheldon Kahn
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 18, 1985 (1985-12-18)
Running time
161 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$28 million[1]
Box office$227.5 million[2]

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 and actress Iman as Mariammo. It was filmed in 1984. Despite mixed reviews from critics, Out of Africa won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director for Pollack.



Karen Blixen recalls her life in Africa where in 1913 she, as an unmarried wealthy Danish woman, is spurned by her Swedish nobleman lover, and moves to Nairobi, British East Africa to complete a marriage of convenience with her lover's brother, Baron Bror Blixen. Bror has gone through his money and is reduced to seducing the servant girls; the couple plans to establish a dairy cattle farm. En route to Nairobi, she meets Denys Finch Hatton, a local big-game hunter.

It is Farah, her African assistant, that greets her at the train station; Bror is nowhere to be found. So, at Muthaiga Club, she enters the men's bar to ask for him, and she is asked to leave. Karen and Bror marry before the day is out in a "long" ceremony. As Baroness Blixen she learns that Bror has changed their agreed upon plan, to instead establish a coffee farm. However, his interest is more in running big game hunting on safari than management of the farm.

Eventually, Karen does develop feelings for Bror, but she contracts syphilis from him during the First World War. Bror agrees to manage the farm while she takes treatment in Denmark. When she returns, he resumes working on safari. They begin to live separately.

The relationship between Karen and Denys develops, and he comes to live with her. Karen and Bror get a divorce. When Denys invites a mutual woman friend on safari, Karen comes to realize that Denys does not want the same type of relationship she seeks. He assures her that when he is with her he wants to be with her, and that a marriage is immaterial to their relationship. He moves out.

The farm eventually yields a good harvest, but a fire greatly damages Karen's farm and causes her tremendous financial harm. Karen prepares for her departure from Kenya Colony to Denmark by appealing for land for her Kĩkũyũ workers to allow them to stay together, and by selling at a rummage sale the things that she will not take with her to Denmark.

Before the rummage sale, Denys visits the empty house and Karen comments that the house should have been so all along; Denys says that he was just getting used to her things. They agree that the coming Friday Denys will fly her to Mombasa; Karen to continue on to Denmark. Friday comes; Bror arrives to tell her that Denys' biplane has crashed and burned.

Following the funeral, she goes to Denys' club to complete arrangements for managing any mail that in her absence may arrive; the members extend to her a toast. At the train station, she says goodbye to Farah, then turns back to ask him to say her name.

Karen later became an author and a storyteller, writing about her experiences in Africa, though she never was to return.



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, with Pollock 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]

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.

Historical differencesEdit

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. 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 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.


Out of Africa
Soundtrack album by
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 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]


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[8] Platinum 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[9] Gold 500,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone

Technical notesEdit

In the Director's Notes on the DVD of Pollack's 2005 film The Interpreter,[10] 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.



On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 60% based on 48 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. 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."[11]

Roger Ebert 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."[12] 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."[13] 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."[14] 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."[15] 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."[16] 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.'"[17] 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."[18] 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."[19]

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."[20]


Academy Awards

The film won seven Academy Awards and was nominated in a further four categories.[21][22]

Golden Globes

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


American Film Institute recognition


  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". Retrieved 2015-11-05.
  6. ^ AFI's 100 Years Of Film Scores Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine at
  7. ^ Out of Africa soundtrack review at
  8. ^ "Spanish album certifications – John Barry – Out of Africa" (PDF) (in Spanish). Productores de Música de España. Select album under "Chart", enter 2001 in the field "Year". Select the certification week in the field "Semana". Click on "Search Charts".
  9. ^ "American album certifications – John Barry – Out of Africa". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 
  10. ^ The Interpreter, DVD#25835, Universal Studios
  11. ^ "Out of Africa (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 20, 1985). "Out of Africa". Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  13. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 18, 1985). "Screen: Out of Africa." The New York Times. C17.
  14. ^ Siskel, Gene (December 20, 1985). "Redford mars the beauty of 'Out of Africa'". Chicago Tribune. Section 7, p. A, M.
  15. ^ Ansen, David (December 23, 1985). "Paradise Remembered". Newsweek. p. 72.
  16. ^ Benson, Sheila (December 18, 1985). "Two Women of Substance in Unlikely Settings." Los Angeles Times. Part VI, p. 1.
  17. ^ "Film Reviews: Out of Africa". Variety. December 11, 1985. 17.
  18. ^ Kael, Pauline (December 30, 1985). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. 67, 68.
  19. ^ Attanasio, Paul (December 20, 1985). "'Out of Africa': Redford & Streep in a Tropical Tupor." The Washington Post. C4.
  20. ^ Berardinelli, James (May 28, 2009). "Out of Africa". Reelviews. Retrieved March 5, 2019.
  21. ^ "The 58th Academy Awards (1986) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-16.
  22. ^ "NY Times: Out of Africa". NY Times. Retrieved 2009-01-01.

External linksEdit