Director: James Gray
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland
Watch The Lost City of Z online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / Amazon Prime / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
In 1925, British explorer and ex-soldier, Col. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), disappeared in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil, along with his son Jack (Tom Holland). What became of them is unknown.
Fawcett’s third attempt at locating the ancient city he named Z (Zed not Zee) in the Amazon jungle ended in his likely death, but his belief in its existence was affirmed at the beginning of the 21st century, with the discovery of Kuhikugu, an archaeological site in Amazonia, which might well have been what Fawcett stumbled upon, or rather found evidence of, during earlier forays. While Fawcett put plenty of stock in Z being real, the Royal Geographic Society accused him of making the same mistake as the Spanish Conquistadors who sought fabled El Dorado (the lost city of gold) and perished.
Drawn directly from David Grann’s acclaimed 2009 non-fiction book, James Gray’s sublime adaptation grips like a burning fever and benefits not just from a spellbinding score by Christopher Spelman and cinematography which mixes gangrenous rot with lush vistas, but a thrilling narrative tapping into everything from the burden of dreams to colonial gangsterism to everyday sexism. The Lost City of Z (2017) is grade A cinema and will be defined as one of 2017’s best achievements in the medium.
Set from 1903-1925, it’s arguable Charlie Hunnam is a bit too young to play Fawcett (he was in his mid-50s when he set off on his ill-fated journey), but the actor gives a committed and fine performance. Hunnam’s Fawcett is a brave individual, who does not shirk a challenge, but the underlying engine to his psychological makeup is the restoration of family honour and revenge against the establishment (who doubted him). Yet while the English explorer is respectful and sensitive (for a colonial overlord), he doesn’t extend the same courtesy to his dear wife, Nina (Sienna Miller). When she asks to join him in Brazil, Fawcett pulls out ‘it’s not for girls’ excuses and how, ‘as a woman’, she’d struggle against the rigours of exploration in dense forest. One senses she’d hold her own. Gray further elaborates on the sexist unfairness by including Angus Macfayden’s James Murray on the second exploration. He’s an Antarctic explorer who talks a big game, but when it comes down to humping gear through sweltering jungles, emerges as a burden and almost gets everybody killed. Miller is excellent in her scenes and Gray wrote a great part for the actor.
Although the bigger star and more bankable name, thanks to the Twilight Saga, Robert Pattinson took the sidekick role. Face obscured by a great big bushy beard, Pattinson’s Corporal Henry Costin, Fawcett’s trusty aide de camp, spends most of the running time in the background of shots or in brief exchanges. It’s curious, because, while he’s in a lot of scenes, Costin is very rarely ever the direct focus. R-Pattz fanatics might be a tad disappointed.
The Lost City of Z is grand filmmaking and exciting storytelling. Taking in rural Ireland, stuffy rooms in posh homes, stately institutes reeking of brandy and cigars, and the primal dark of the Amazon interior, Gray’s rich tapestry manages the feat of being an intimate character study and Conradian parable.
The Lost City of Z is available on BBC iPlayer, following its broadcast at 9pm on Saturday 9th March 2019. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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