The Lost City of Z

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z is an intriguing movie that ignores conventional story line structure in favor of deep character studies of its principals. We are invited to watch real growth as each of them struggles to follow passion instead of conforming to the rules of English propriety in the early 1900s. Don’t look for a dramatic arc here, just enjoy watching these people grow.

Just the facts: in the early 1900s, Army soldier Percy Fawcett ( Charlie Hunnam) is chosen by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the jungle in Eastern Bolivia. The cloud hanging over the mission carries the message that no one has ever returned alive from going “up river.” Several countries are planning to explore this region for its black gold/oil. Fawcett is looking instead for the ancient civilization he believes is there and to get there, he must fight the bigotry of British Conservatives and the Church. “We have been so arrogant for centuries,” he says of them.

Fawcett, stuck in Army mediocrity because of his father’s alcoholism (yes, this is 1906), says “My reputation as a man rests entirely on our success.” In a finely written scene that is beautifully acted by Charlie Hunnan as Fawcett and Sienna Miller as his wife Nina, we understand both their mutual love and the depth of his need to grow by taking on this mission. He will be gone for three years.

That short scene tells us these two people are smart, strong, and independent – traits at the gut of their behavior throughout the story. Director/scriptwriter James Gray sends Fawcett off with his friend Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) to indulge those traits in three trips to the Amazon jungle against all odds. If his decision to go springs from who he is, that core also produces his ability to understand the natives he encounters.

What sets both Fawcett and Nina apart is a quality each has that lifts them above the stereotypical demands of their era that might have molded them differently. Even Fawcett couldn’t stamp out his wife’s need to explore the unknown. She does that in raising her children. He asks himself in the jungle, “What kind of a fool am I to leave my family for this place?” Nina understands her husband’s need to return three times to the unknown.

Director Gray has assembled a marvelous cast of military leaders to give us the flavor of acceptable behavior in early 1900s England. Against that background, the primary actors deliver the flavor of people motivated by an inner core. Robert Pattinson is superb as Fawcett’s quiet co-explorer who stays with Fawcett until he can’t. Angus Macfadyen creates the British villain who messes things up repeatedly.

We won’t forget the inner strength that led both Percy and Nina Fawcett to respect and understand the deep determination each would show throughout their lives as they made tough choices. And we might not see better acting for quite a while.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Lost City of Z
Word Count : 499
Running time: 2:21
Rating : PG-13
Date : 5 April 2017


A United Kingdom

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

A United Kingdom

A United Kingdom is a powerful story rooted in racism in reverse. If the movie weren’t historically accurate, it might have been labelled “too good to be true,” but it did happen, and in just this way.

This fine movie was directed with great care and skill by director Amma Asante from a script by Guy Hibbert and a book by Susan Williams. Time, characters, and location may be different from those of today but the clash of cultural dictates – then and now – comes from the same hurt that racial hatred inflicts wherever it survives.

Time: 1947. Location: Africa and England. Characters: Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo) and Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike). Seretse was sent from Africa to London by his uncle (Vusi Kunene) for the education that would equip him for his hereditary role as king of the British protectorate of Bechuanalanda, later to become Botswana. When the future king meets Ruth Williams, a white woman who works as an office worker, they fall in love with scant understanding of the international eruptions their marriage will cause. They love jazz, dancing, and each other and they spend little time thinking about the future.

When Seretse’s uncle (Vusi Kunene) summons him home with the announcement that his reign is to begin, the trouble begins. Ruth’s father rages at her marrying a black man and disowns her. Seretse’s uncle is livid that he is marrying a white woman. That’s the equation and while it plays out differently in England and Africa, the hurt is deep on both sides.

The genuinely appealing thing is that neither he nor she ever wavers. No second thoughts for her about marrying the king of a small African kingdom; none for him when his uncle exiles him back to England for five years as punishment for his white wife. Ruth elects to stay in Africa during her husband’s exile while she works for his return and in every way she can to become part of the country.

Actors Oyelowo and Pike create a couple we care very much about, and we marvel that their story unfolded seventy years ago. In a grim echo of today, the rage of the British government and their families creates the turmoil that nearly dooms his reign.

Director Amma Asante and actor David Oyelowo, both born in the U.K., clearly saw this true story in the same way: a married couple with love of country, love of each other, and a shared determination to bring this educated, qualified leader to the throne he had been preparing to occupy throughout his life.

The filmmakers were wise to avoid creating imaginary subplots and to concentrate instead on two people focused on their own future and that of the kingdom. This was 1947. In spite of progress between then and now, it is impossible to watch this movie without admitting to ourselves the one thing that persists in spite of political progress: the emotions of racial hatred.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : A United Kingdom
Word Count : 497
Running time: 1:51
Rating : PG-13
Date : March 5, 2017