Mountains of the Moon
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBob Rafelson
Screenplay byWilliam Harrison
Bob Rafelson
Based onBurton and Speke
by William Harrison
Produced byDaniel Melnick
Mario Kassar
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byThom Noble
Music byMichael Small
Distributed byTri-Star Pictures
Release date
  • February 23, 1990 (1990-02-23)
Running time
136 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$18 million[1]
Box office$4 million[2]

Mountains of the Moon is a 1990 American biographical film depicting the 1857–1858 journey of Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke in their expedition to Central Africa, which culminated in Speke's discovery of the source of the Nile River and led to a bitter rivalry between the two men. The film stars Patrick Bergin as Burton and Iain Glen as Speke. Delroy Lindo appears as an African whom the explorers meet.

The film was directed by Bob Rafelson based on the 1982 novel Burton and Speke by William Harrison.



The original music was composed by Michael Small, who incorporated genuine traditional African music into a traditional orchestral palette. The soundtrack album was released on Polydor Records, but is long out of print. There are two major themes, one for Burton and the other for Africa. There is also a love theme for Burton's relationship to his wife Isabel Burton (portrayed in the movie by Fiona Shaw).


The film was released in a pan and scan VHS edition from a widescreen laserdisc and is currently available as both a pan and scan and widescreen DVD.


Peter Travers described Mountains as "an epic of sweep and intimacy",[3] and Siskel & Ebert gave it two thumbs up.[4] Ebert wrote, "It's the kind of movie that sends you away from the screen filled with curiosity to know more about this man Burton."[5] In Newsweek, critic Jack Kroll wrote, "The exploits of Sir Richard Francis Burton make Lawrence of Arabia look like a tourist."[6] Mountains of the Moon holds a rating of 65% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 17 reviews.[7]


  1. ^ "AFI|Catalog". Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Mountains of the Moon (1990) - Box Office Mojo".
  3. ^ Travers, Peter (23 February 1990). "Mountains of the Moon". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  4. ^ "Siskel & Ebert - Mountains of the Moon/Where the Heart is (1990)". YouTube. Retrieved 18 September 2014.[dead YouTube link]
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (23 March 1990). "Mountains of the Moon". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 27 August 2012.
  6. ^ Jack Kroll, "In the heart of darkness," Newsweek, February 26, 1990
  7. ^ "Mountains of the Moon". Retrieved 1 November 2022.