“A very British approach you might say, in keeping with the film’s historical time period and setting…”
Wayward Wolf Film Review.
Any thoughts that we may have stumbled upon a particularly extravagant episode of BBC’s Springwatch are quickly vanquished when our Chris Packham-alike hero gallops purposefully on horseback into the edge of a woodland and blasts a majestic stag through the heart – dead.
An admittedly unlikley scenario given Packham’s status as a naturalist and all-round friend of the feral and the furry. The visual similarity is uncanny though – or is it just me?
Back in movie land, James Gray’s sweeping biopic – based upon the story of intrepid explorer, Colonel Percival Fawcett (a most rewarding performance from Charlie Hunnam) – focuses on one man’s almost blinkered determination to become a highly decorated and revered member of the British military. Whilst he has always carried his role out with great distinction, Fawcett’s professional placements to date, time and again, have failed to place him in any actual combat scenarios, much to his chargrin.
This trend seems set to continue when he is asked to head up a largely topographical map-making mission into the largely unchartered, rubber-rich jungles of South America. At first reluctant, the assurance that medals and great honour will be bestowed upon him is more than enough to pique the Colonel’s interest and it’s not long therefore before he and his expedition party are aboard a raft, swatting mosquitos, as they float down an Amazonian tributary.
The Lost City of Z is a terrific yarn. Encompassing a time immediately before, during and after the Great War, it is a story of one man’s intrepid exploration into the unknown that fast became an all-consuming, life-long obsession to unearth a lost city, culture and treasures that he becomes convinced is all buried deep within the Amazon jungle.
It is, however, a film that is equally concerned with laying bare the at times glaring differences between the male and female psyche, particularly appreciable at a time in history in which gender roles were far more disparate and rigidly defined.
Fawcett’s wife, Nina (an impressive turn from Sienna Miller), is his rock of dependability, very literally left carrying the baby in her husband’s unavoidably extended absences from the family home. Her hugely tested patience and understanding is not always mirrored by that of their children who are not so willing to accept growing up, effectively fatherless.
This leads to great tensions within the family unit, but it can never be reason enough to restrain our plucky pioneer from his raison d’être.
The Lost City of Z is a very well-realised film. A very balanced piece that has every opportunity to do so, yet resists the temptation to be overly gratuitous, sentimental or euphoric. A very British approach you might say, in keeping with the film’s historical time period and setting. As with all successfully intriguing adventures, it carries its audience along on an engaging journey of discovery which is as much about what is allowed to occur in our own imaginations as it is about what ultimately plays out on the big screen.
Every bit an old-fashioned, ‘boys’ own adventure,’ it exposes the prehistoric stance adopted by the colonial-ruling classes – those that would refer to any peoples or tribes that it fails or refuses to understand as savages, and whose primary course of action is to shoot first and ask questions later. That or enslavement. It’s a mindset that Fawcett appears to have been eager to distance himself from. A man that chooses not to conquer, but instead to learn about that which he doesn’t know or understand, despite the occasional spray of arrows that may rain down upon him and his men – just one of a whole multitude of adverse scenarios that will test Fawcett and those courageous enough to travel with him.
James Gray’s sympathetic writing and expert handling, together with beautiful cinematography (filmed in Columbia by all accounts), and first class performances across the board, has created a highly enjoyable, multi-layered adventure tale of some weight and note, doing justice in the process to the memory of one of Britain’s foremost explorers and cartographers.