Revisiting “Out of Africa”

For this latest installment of commemorating the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios is Sydney Pollack’s 1985 romantic drama Out of Africa starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.

This was always a film that I thought was “too grown up for me,” it being a proper adult film and all. So it was several years before I mustered up the resources to catch it.

Based on actual events, Out of Africa is the account of Danish writer Karen Blixen’s (pen name: Isak Dinesen, portrayed by Streep) life in Kenya from her loveless marriage to the philandering Baron Bror von Blixen (portrayed in the film by Klaus Maria Brandauer) to her friendship and romantic relationship with game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Redford).

As to my personal response to the film, I think the critical consensus provided by Rotten Tomatoes says it all:

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.

EXACTLY, could not have said it better myself. The film is absolutely beautiful and breathtaking and greatly benefits from a sweeping soundtrack from legendary composer John Barry. I addition, I really connected with the title performances.

But in the end, watching the film was a tedious experience. With a running time of 161 minutes, there were moments I thought about switching it off but reconsidered in the hope that the action (as it were) would eventually pick up.

One thing that may have been picked up in your reading of this piece is that I describe Redford’s character as “British.” Robert Redford? British? Alas, he does not don a British accent in the film although at least from my perspective, it is greatly implied that Denys is of British extraction.

One final note: I guess it is worth mentioning that one of the most memorable scenes in the film is the moment Redford washes Streep’s hair along the riverside. This is one of those moments that I never fully understood the romantic significance of. Let me know what you think (as a bonus, the clip gives a hint of Streep’s Danish accent):


This film had awards lobbed at it. Let’s start with the Academy Awards – Out of Africa received 11 nods and won 7, including:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Sound
The film also won 3 Golden Globes.

FUN FACT: Another of Karen Blixen’s noted works, Babette’s Feast, was turned into an Academy-Award winning film of its own.


  1. I was waiting for you to review this. I’m still really interested although you say it’s a little bit of chore to get through. I’ll wait until the newly released blu-ray goes down below 20 dollars.
    Max recently posted..Blind Spot 2012 Review: Blazing SaddlesMy Profile

    • Hey Max,

      I realized that there are more weeks in the year than there were remastered entries. So I decided to slow it down a bit 🙂 I almost forgot to post this one this month!

      In general, I am happy to have seen the film in spite of my lack of response to it afterwards. It creates a fully formed well rounded perspective when I look at movies in general 🙂

      Let us know what you think about it.

  2. Fine look at this one. I have to say this one is not my favorite Sydney Pollack film, or even close to it. It has its moments, especially its stellar John Barry score and solid Streep performance, but that’s about it for me. Even for the folks here in California, many thought Redford’s interpretation as a Brit a bit of a struggle (though he’s way better than Kevin Costner’s attempt in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ ;-)).
    le0pard13 recently posted..TMT: The Whole Bloody AffairMy Profile

    • I think that nothing beats Costner. In my research, I did read (unsubstantiated, of course) that Redford did some early scenes with the Brit accent but Pollack told him to use his regular voice.

  3. Oh man, I really need to visit this film. Been wanting to see it for ages. No doubt that hair-washing scene is indelible. Sooo romantic.
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  4. I must be a real old softie because I still like this film despite all the flaws you rightly point out … or rather, I do now. When I first saw it with some school buddies back in the 80s, Streep’s opening spiel, ‘I had a faaarm in Affrrriiika’, became a mantra instantly inducing hilarity for months! It was probably overpraised in its day and all the Oscars seem perhaps a bit silly – personally I much prefer Pollack’s next, the more obviously flawed HAVANA, which if it weren’t so obvious a CASABLANCA ripoff might have overcome its rather lumpy narrative construction and really worked as a historical melodrama with a bit of an edge to it. Of the glut of colonial/empire movies of the 80s, OUT OF AFRICA is certainly not the worst (that is probably WHITE MISCHIEF) and has some great performances (especially from the mesmerising Brandauer).
    Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) recently posted..JAGO IN LOVE by Nigel FairsMy Profile

    • Sergio, a true romantic 😉 The overpraise may have done it for me. It is definitely a watchable film, don’t get me wrong – there are a whole lot worse out there. I think it was the length that really did me in.

  5. Man washes woman’s hair = Supposedly romantic. Nothing else to take away lol
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