Pith Helmet

A Visit to “Forbidden Territory”
June 11, 2007, 3:00 am
Filed under: Movies

My most recent order from Amazon.com was Forbidden Territory: Stanley’s Search for Livingstone. While this wasn’t a great movie, it was a well-made movie that was more than worth the $6.99 I paid for it. The film does the job I ask of it: portraying the Dark Continent, the Africa of adventure.

A National Geographic Television presentation, Forbidden Territory perfectly captures the period. We see African henchman, Europe’s finest explorers and its basest adventurers, the mustachioed, tuxedo-clad “armchair geographers” of Royal Geographic Society, a faithful missonary, and the poor souls he sought to protect from Arab slavers. The costuming was great, right down to Livingstone’s little blue “conductor’s” cap and the motley pugaree on Stanley’s pith helmet.

While the film de-demonizes Livingstone and Stanley so much that it would send any post-colonialist Cult-of-Achebe English prof into a pontificating hissy fit, it thoroughly develops Stanley’s character, portraying him as a tormented soul and a indomitable survivor, partially through a series of flashbacks to his days as a Welsh bastard in a workhouse and his days as a Confederate soldier. Even in spite of Aidan Quinn’s best efforts to overact the part in a few scenes. Fortunately, the casting of Nigel Hawthorne as old Doc Livingstone was pure genius. To paraphrase Troy McClure, “it was the part he was born to play, baby.”

In a nutshell, Forbidden Territory is no Lawrence of Arabia, but it is a pretty good period piece guaranteed to delight anyone who has ever dreamed of facing tsetse flies and Somalis.


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