Pitting the difficulties of returning against the traveller’s urge to stray, James Gray’s The Lost City Of Z finds no peace at home or abroad.
The Missionby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Set during the epoch of grand adventures in South America, James Gray’s The Lost City of Z charts the expeditions of Major Percy Fawcett in Amazonia – first as a cartographer to map the border between Bolivia and Brazil along the Rio Verde, and afterwards in search of ancient civilisations and cities. An undecorated Major in the British Army in Ireland, Fawcett sets off to the Amazon in the hope of awards and regaining his family name, disgraced by his “bad choice of ancestors”. Upon his return though to London and the Royal Geographic Society, his hope of returning to find these lost cities is fuelled by glory and the hope of dispelling society’s racism towards the Amerindian, a people it believes couldn’t possibly have ancient civilisations that predate our own.
Staring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller, James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is a handsome portrait of the age of exploration. Sienna Miller is affecting as the emancipated wife, responsible for finding the Portuguese conquistador’s letter corroborating a lost city, and while Hunnam looks the part, his measured delivery robs the film of much of its passion. Indeed, Gray seems not to overly care for the hardships of life away from home or the Amazon adventure – besides a few run-ins with the natives and some nasty diseases. Drawing a veil of mystery over the fate of Fawcett and his son, who didn’t ever return from their final expedition, with a mystical encounter with a hostile tribe that could suggest both death and a hallucinogenic ushering into the lost city, Gray’s film follows a similar trajectory to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – the white man losing himself upriver to a tropical paradise where he can be king. More a biopic by numbers than an epic adventure, The Lost City of Z is an entertaining enough. It just doesn’t seem to know why it set off in the first place.
The Lost City of Z screened at the 67th Berlin Film Festival and is released on 24 March 2017 in the UK.