Film: Lost city of Z
Director: James Gray
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Angus Macfadyen, Tom Holland, Ian McDiarmid
Albert Schweizer, he is not. Nor is he Stanley Livingston. Percy Fawcett, the central character of this beautifully shot historical adventure drama is his own man, a man cast in the heroic mould, seeking a lost city in a far-off clime, in Latin America, Bolivia to be precise.
It is a magnificent obsession that spurs him to leave England, that green and pleasant land to lead expeditions to the Amazon River and beyond in a quest for a city which he believes is more ancient than Western civilisation.
It is not as if Fawcett is oblivious to the dangers (cannibals! piranhas! tropic disease!) that lurk there. But it’s odd that he considers the titular city to be the most important in antiquity. After all, as an officer in the British Army, he had served in Ireland, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Hong Kong and surely he would have known of the ancient civilisations and rich cultures of India and China (not to speak of Egypt.)
No stranger to battle, he fights in the trenches of WW1 and returns home, a hero though not to his eldest son Jack who accuses him of abandoning the family; namely wife Nina (Sienna Miller) Jack (played as a child by Tom Mulheron and Bobby Smalldridge, and later as a teen by Tom Holland) and two other children.
Latin America is actually, a new posting for Fawcett who is asked by the Royal Geographical Society to map the border between Bolivia and Brazil. Fawcett is only too happy oblige and cobbles a hardy team comprising experienced fellow soldier and explorer Henry Costin, (Robert Pattinson. )
In the jungles of the Amazon, Fawcett is entranced by pottery and rock carvings, which he discovers following the assertions of a slave about a hidden city in a place from which no one has ever returned. There is too, a 1753 Portuguese letter which refers to a “rich, ancient civilisation.”
Gray maintains a meditatively meandering but never dull pace for this intense, compelling film which he adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name by David Grann and cast Hunnam (brilliant) as the little known heroic protagonist. An avid deer hunter, Fawcett owns fundamentally liberal ideas- he dislikes the white man’s arrogance and is firm in the belief “we are made of the same clay” Obviously, other men do not share his beliefs. There is for example rubber baron (Franco Nero) who listens to opera in a white suit, and keeps native slaves in shackles.
Gray intersperses the savagery of inequity and war with the lofty and sublime (poetry/music) The soundtrack includes Stravinsky, Ravel, Strauss, Verdi and Beethoven. Nina Fawcett quotes Rudyard Kipling and Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, /Or what’s a heaven for?”
Like her husband, she has no time for organised religion. Percy even accuses his fellow Britons of supporting the “bigotry of church” but a Ouija board is deemed “spiritual aid” and a fortune teller given credence as prophetess.
Then, there are the indigenous Indians who consume dead members of the tribe in the hope his spirit will enter them. Fawcett leads three expeditions in three decades and as he tells his son, in the final one, “Nothing will happen to us that isn’t our destiny. You, gentle reader could ask what happens next. I can only tell you to choose between optimism and grief.