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The Lost City of Z | reviews, news & interviews

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z

Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson go rafting in Percy Fawcett's mystical Amazonian adventures

Turning on the Fawcetts: Charlie Hunnam and Tom Holland looking for a lost civilisation

Percy Fawcett: does the name ring a bell? He ought by rights to sit in the pantheon of boys’ own explorers alongside Cook and Ross, Parry and Franklin, Livingstone and Mungo Park, Scott and Shackleton. Either side of the Great War, he returned again and again to the impenetrable South American interior, in pursuit of an ancient Amazonian civilisation which he called Z.

That he’s not quite a household name is partly down to reasons it would be unfair to reveal here. His story, told in a 2009 book by David Grann called The Lost City of Z, has now been streamlined into a film which inherits the title.

When we first meet Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) in this telling, he’s a soldier blocked from Edwardian society’s inner sancta thanks to an unlucky lineage. “Major Fawcett,” scoffs one toff, “has been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors.” When the opportunity comes along to draw up a border between Brazil and Bolivia (where the rubber comes from), he sees the chance for advancement and redemption. The minor downside is he must abandon his pregnant wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and their young son for the next three years. Happily, she’s all for it. “I am an independent woman,” she says, and shoos him off across the Atlantic, where he is joined aboard by a stoical sidekick called Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson).

The first trip into the Amazon’s heart of darkness comes with grim portents (“ain’t nobody comes back from up river,” they’re told). But back Fawcett comes after various hair-raising challenges to his health and safety – ambush by natives (pictured below), blood vomiting, starvation, ghastly lesions etc. He returns convinced that a lost civilisation awaits discovery. In a rambunctious set-piece, the stuffed shirts in the Royal Geographical Society hoot with derision. Next time he abandons the pregnant Nina plus two sons. For company he has polar veteran James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) who proves a traitorous traveller in hotter climes (cue another powerful scene back at the RGS).Lost City of ZThen comes the Somme, where Fawcett’s men are inspired by his example not to retreat. The great survivor of so many ordeals still feels the lure of the jungle. This time he is talked into one last crack by his son Jack (Tom Holland), who has previously attacked his father for deserting the family but is now keen to tag along.

The Lost City of Z joins a short conga line of South American epics, above all Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God which told of another search for a lost city. Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo is even quoted in a luminous scene featuring an opera house in the middle of the jungle. The Amazon allows for ravishing cinematography – see also Roland Joffe’s The Mission – and there's a bit of that here. Director James Gray (whose advice from Francis Ford Coppola was “Don’t go”) has intensified the sense of claustrophobia by apparently filming everything on the same stretch of river. This is presumably down to budgetary constraints, but it creates odd moments. When Murray is sent home on a horse after many months’ travel by raft, there is no indication of how the horse got there. As a depiction of the Amazon as a pitiless helltrap, it can’t hold a candle to any five-minute segment of Aguirre, Wrath of God.

As for Hunnam, he conveys Fawcett’s stiff-upper-lipped mysticism and contempt for class via a vaguely Liverpudlian accent. He speaks very very slowly, and often quietly, so ends up sounding like a sotto voce Simon Rattle on 16rpm. In his playing Z seems to stand for zen. Or possibly zzz. When Fawcett solemnly urges his men in the trenches to fight not for king or country but for one another, a soldier hollers, “And fuck the bloody Bosch!” It’s a welcome respite from being pounded by pious nostrums. Meanwhile fans of RPatz will be puzzled by an introverted turn in which he hides behind spectacles, a beard and silence. In a story that is largely about an ambitious man abandoning his wife for an obsession, Sienna Miller holds her end up very well.

In attempting to cram so much in, Gray’s script loses track of time. Fawcett’s journeys took forever, but the only sense of the years passing is the growth of his children. The climax of the film, and the source of the power of Fawcett’s mysterious legend, is much the most powerful section, partly because it is entirely imagined and fiction is no longer beholden to fact. The Lost City of Z doesn’t quite unearth a transporting truth about Percy Fawcett.

@JasperRees

In Charlie Hunnam's playing, Z seems to stand for zen. Or possibly zzz

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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