The story begins in 1913 in Denmark, when Karen Dinesen (a wealthy but unmarried woman) asks her friend Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) to enter into a marriage of convenience with her. Although Bror is a member of the aristocracy, he is no longer financially secure; therefore, he agrees to the marriage, and the two of them plan to move to Africa to begin a dairy farm.
Upon moving to British East Africa, Karen marries Bror in a brief ceremony, thus becoming Baroness Blixen. She meets and befriends various other colonial residents of the country, most of whom are British. She also meets Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), a local big-game hunter with whom she develops a close friendship. However, things turn out differently from her expectations, since Bror has used her money to purchase a coffee plantation rather than a dairy farm.
He also shows little inclination to put any real work into it, preferring instead to become a game hunter. Although theirs was a marriage of convenience, Karen does eventually develop feelings for Bror, but she is distressed when she learns of his extramarital affairs. To make matters worse, Karen contracts syphilis from her philandering husband (at the time, cures were uncertain) and is forced to return to Denmark for a long and difficult period of treatment using the then-new medicine Salvarsan. Bror agrees to look after the plantation in her absence.
After she has recovered and returns to Africa, the First World War is drawing to an end. However, it becomes clear that her marriage to the womanizing Bror has not changed, and she eventually asks him to move out of their house. No longer able to have children of her own due to the effects of the syphilis, she decides to open a school to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and also some European customs to the African tribal children of the area. However, her coffee plantation runs into financial difficulties, and she is forced to rely on bank loans to make ends meet. Her friendship with Denys Finch Hatton develops further.
Despite her expectation and desire to have what begins as an affair turn into a lasting relationship, Karen realizes that Denys is as impossible to domesticate as the wild animals he hunts and often refers to. Although he moves into Karen’s house, he criticizes her desire to “own” things; this implies even people. He refuses to commit to marriage or give up his free lifestyle and tells her that he will not love her more just because of a “piece of paper”. Karen grudgingly continues in the relationship, knowing it will not ever be official.
He decides to invite Felicity, a female mutual acquaintance on one of his safaris, which exceeds Karen’s ability to tolerate his justifications for his lifestyle and behavior. Karen asks him to accede to her request to not take her along, and he refuses. She asks him to move out. The plantation finally yields a good harvest at long last, but a devastating fire breaks out in the processing shed, and the crops and all of the factory equipment are destroyed.
Out of Africa is drawn from the life and writings of Danish author Isak Dinesen, who during the time that the film’s events occured was known by her married name, Karen Blixen-Flecke. For convenience’s sake, Karen (Meryl Streep) has married Baron Bor Blixen-Flecke (Klaus Maria Brandauer).
In 1914, the Baron moves himself and his wife to a plantation in Nairobi, then leaves Karen to her own devices as he returns to his womanizing and drinking. Soon, Karen has fallen in love with charming white hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), who prefers a no-strings relationship. A woman who prides herself on her independence, Blixen finds herself unhappily in thrall to an aloof man — and doubly unhappy for living out such a cliché situation.
Although Redford received a lion’s share of criticism for his too-American performance, Streep has rarely been better, and the film’s perfectly measured pace is complemented by David Watkin’s stunning location photography. The movie was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won 7, including Best Picture, Best Director for Sydney Pollack, Best Adapted Screenplay for Kurt Luedtke, and Best Cinematography for Watkin.
Out of Africa (1985)
Directed by: Sydney Pollack
Starring: Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Michael Kitchen, Malick Bowens, Joseph Thiaka, Leslie Phillips, Job Seda, Annabel Maule
Screenplay by: Kurt Luedtke
Production Design by: Stephen B. Grimes
Cinematography by: David Watkin
Film Editing by: Pembroke J. Herring, Sheldon Kahn, Fredric Steinkamp, William Steinkamp
Art Direction by: Colin Grimes, Cliff Robinson, Herbert Westbrook
Set Decoration by: Josie MacAvin
Costume Design by: Milena Canonero
Music by: John Barry
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: December 18, 1985