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Posts Tagged ‘based on true events’

This film is based on the life of Karen Blixen (played here by Meryl Street), a Danish woman who, in the early 20th century, entered into a marriage of convenience and moved to Africa to run a coffee plantation with her husband (Klaus Maria Brandauer).  When he abandons her, she starts a romance with free-spirited game hunter Denys Finch-Hatton (Robert Redford).

I first saw this film at the cinema when I was a young teenager, and to be honest, I found it boring; most of the story lines went over my head.  Watching it again now as an adult however, I thought this film was rather beautiful, and very rewarding.  It is so much more than just a romance, although the romantic aspect is beautifully played out.  Without the help of her husband, Karen has to learn to survive on her own wits and intelligence, in a time when it was not easy to be a single woman.  She becomes independent and stronger than she probably ever could have imagined possible.  Redford – who looks as beautiful as ever! – is wonderful as Finch-Hatton (although his character was likely somewhat sanitised for cinema audiences), and the relationship between these two headstrong characters was very believable.

It is a long film – the best part of three hours, and in some parts very slow moving.  It is very much a character driven story, rather than a plot driven story, but it is well worth the investment.  Shot partly  on location in Kenya, the scenery is simply stunning, and made me want to visit the area.

When you have actors like Streep and Redford on board, you know that you are going to get good performances, and they don’t disappoint.  However, I did find Streep’s Danish accent somewhat irritating at first, but got used to it.

It took me a long time to come back to this film, but I am very glad that I did so, and would certainly recommend it to anyone who likes a moving, thought-provoking film.

Year of release: 1985

Director: Sydney Pollack

Producers: Kim Jorgensen, Sydney Pollack, Anna Cataldi, Judith Thurman, Terence Clegg

Writers: Karen Blixen (book ‘Out of Africa’ and other writings), Judith Thurman (book ‘Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Story Teller’), Errol Trzebinski (book ‘Silence Will Speak’), Kurt Luedtke

Main cast: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Mike Bugara

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This is the adaptation of Sister Helen Prejean’s book of the same name, where she talks about her work counselling death row inmates, and her campaign against the death penalty. There are some slight differences – in the book, Sister Helen discusses two inmates; here it just one inmate, with elements of both men incorporated. Also, in the book, electrocution was by electric chair, and in the film it is by lethal injection, but apart from that, the film remains true to the spirit and message of the book.

I first watched this film in the late 90s, and I remember sitting in stunned silence when it finished. I naively thought that I would not be so affected by it this time around, especially as I knew what was coming. WRONG! I actually spent about half of the film in tears.

Susan Sarandon (in an Oscar winning performance) portrays Sister Helen, and Sean Penn is Matthew Poncelet, the death row inmate to whom she offers friendship and spiritual guidance. Both performances are blisteringly good. The beauty of this film is that it doesn’t try and defend or excuse the heinous crime committed by Poncelet, and nor does it try to make him a sympathetic character (frankly, he isn’t). But this film is about more than one man. It is about the rights and wrongs of using the death penalty as punishment for crimes. Personally I am completely against the death penalty, but I respect the makers of this film (and Sister Helen) for daring to show both sides of the argument. The grieving families of Poncelet’s victims are portrayed with sympathy and honesty. Of course they are angry because of their loss – they have every right to be, and their desire to see their children’s murderer executed is entirely understandable. The film is balanced and as objective as it can be, given that it is based on the book of an anti-death penalty campaigner.

It is thoughtful, and thought-provoking, as a film with this subject at its core should be. Whichever side of the argument you’re on, I would highly recommend watching this. Just superb.

Year of release: 1995

Director: Tim Robbins

Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, John Kilik, Tim Robbins, Rudd Simmons, Allan Nicholls, Mark Seldis, R.A. White

Writers: Sister Helen Prejean (book), Tim Robbins

Main cast: Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky, Raymond J. Barry, Roberta Maxwell

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Click here for my review of the book.

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