Mountains of the Moon (film)

This article is about the 1990 film. For the 2013 Bengali film of the same name, see Chander Pahar (film).
Mountains of the Moon
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Produced by Daniel Melnick
Screenplay by William Harrison
Bob Rafelson
Based on Burton and Speke
1982 novel
by William Harrison
Music by Michael Small
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Thom Noble
Distributed by TriStar Pictures
Release dates
February 23, 1990
Running time
136 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4,011,793[1]

Mountains of the Moon is a 1990 Rankcolor theatrical 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.

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 summary

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

Historical inaccuracies


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

E. Rice's Biography of Burton: Edward Rice "Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: A Biography ", Da Capo Press (June 5, 2001)

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