Charlie Hunnam (Sons Of Anarchy) is Col. Percy Fawcett, an explorer who went missing in the Amazon in the 1920s. The Lost City of Z tells the story of him, and those closest to him, including Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson). In the beginning of the 20th century, Fawcett and Costin journeyed deep into the Amazon and discover things previously unknown to humanity, evidence of civilisations that may have inhabited the region before “the white man” came. Regardless of being labelled as mad by the English scientific establishment, Fawcett continued to try to prove his case, with the help of his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), which subsequently ends in the disappearances of him and his son in 1925.
He made many journeys to his Z and we follow three of this trips, starting not long after cutting short his budding military career. The in-depth introduction on his military history is long, but necessary to understand Fawcett as person. Soon after, we are thrust into 1906, the year of his first outing to Bolivia and Brazil. He was convinced that a complex peoples lived there, to which the RGS (Royal Geographical Society) laugh in his face but they send him on a second expedition anyway. In 1914, we are witness to great battle sequences in what was to be ‘The War To End All Wars’ and we’re thrust into 1925, his last expedition, with his son Jack Fawcett (Tom Holland).
Based on David Grann’s The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, this film is an enjoyable watch for sure.
However, it’s not without a darkness that goes beyond the canopies of the Amazon Rainforest. In 2017, Percy Fawcett is a bit of a legend, but back then he was mocked for being kind to the “savages”, as he saw them as human beings, not the beasts that the British Empire had labelled. His peers, including James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) and Sir George Goldie (Ian McDiarmid) are two of the film’s token imperialists, who quite frankly, are just assholes. But the film’s portrayal of imperial ideology is great and even more potent into this post-Brexit era, where ‘us or them’ is the name of the game. The class-based pomposity is something that is still evident in the 2017, if you only open your eyes.
This film covers a number of decades and I’m glad they didn’t change Hunnam for an older actor for his older years. It’s also a narrative about deterioration and the depletion of the Empire. But it’s also about the decline of man who had seen so much, but lived so little, often spending years from his family. However, it also shows how much respect he had for the places he visited and the cultures he found, in relation to the British Empire who plunder and destroy everything they touch. With any period drama comes class-based snobbery and this film excels with its usage, whether that’s at a ball or at an RGS meeting where rank is confused with good character.
Just like our politicians today, high status does not equal good character. Regardless of historical accuracy, advocates of the Empire were renowned racists and often labelled people of colour as “primitive” and/or “savages.” Winston Churchill referred to Gandhi as a “seditious fakir” and that’s from the man Britain saw fit to put on its five-pound note.
Fawcett and his close friends on their outings (not Murray) treated people of colour humanly, as they didn’t see the differences between them. They looked different but we are one species. Do you see where I’m going with this? Too many films are being produced and released with themes in reply to our Neo-Political climate. The ideologies of the past still stand (somewhat), they’re just dressed in a different uniform.
As far as cinematography goes, this film is stunning and the scenes in the South American terrains are beautiful. It makes me want to go there and see it for myself. “To dream, to seek the unknown, to look for what is beautiful is its own reward. A man’s reach should exceed his grasp” says Nina (Miller). And it’s quotes like this really put man’s existence into perspective. To pursue knowledge is a good thing, but it’s what we do with that knowledge that defines us. To seek new worlds and new civilisations is also good, but not if we make slaves out of them or enforce different cultures to adopt our ways. Observe. Watch. Learn. We reach for knowledge and grasp for what that knowledge brings but don’t propagate others to fit an agenda.
Regardless of its slowish introduction, this film holds up. It lags slightly towards the end but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable picture nonetheless. Sienna Miller (Live By Night), Tom Holland (Wolf Hall), Robert Pattinson (Goblet Of Fire) and Charlie Hunnam (Crimson Peak) all give amiable performances. In addition, the film’s cinematography is accompanied by a stellar score from Christopher Spelman. Never has a period drama been as relevant to the now as The Lost City of Z, as it is sweet and proper to respect those and what which is different.