The Lost City of Z (pronounced zed in the British fashion) tells the “true” story of the intrepid Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy) who was sent to Bolivia in 1906 to map the country’s borders for the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) and stumbled upon clues to a lost civilization deep within the Amazon. He made numerous trips back and forth between England, where his wife (Sienna Miller) and children lived, and the Amazon. And he eventually disappeared into the jungle. The film is a beautifully shot tale of obsession in the last age of the great world explorers. Slightly too long, it is nonetheless entirely worth your time.
Fawcett was working for the Royal War Office when the RGS requested that he be sent to South America to map the borders between Bolivia and Brazil, mostly to settle disputes between rival rubber companies. But it was during this expedition that he literally stumbled upon artifacts that pointed to a previous civilization existing in a place that Western society could not fathom one being. On his return home, while hailed as a hero for his work, he was pilloried by the other men of the RGS for even suggesting that a great civilization once existed in South America. He turned their doubt into a bet on finding what he dubbed the City of Z. One of his incentives was to prove himself to the very class conscious society that considers him tainted by his father’s fall from grace. “He’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors,” says one of his superiors. Another was his lust for exploration of another kind of world.
But return he did again and again, often with his comrade in arms Henry Costin (James Pattinson). They were challenged by indigenous people showering them with arrows, roaring rapids that came out of nowhere, all manner of dangerous fauna, disease and starvation, and one particularly ill-prepared fellow explorer. It was a grueling trek, but each time they got closer and closer to the elusive Z. By the final trip Costin was done with the explorer’s life, and Fawcett was joined by his eldest son with whom he had a strained relationship. Of course the last scenes of The Lost City of Z are entirely fictional because to this day no one knows what happened. But the story up until that point gives you plenty to base your guesses on.
All the actors are extremely good in their roles, especially Robert Pattinson. Charlie Hunnam’s character is more reserved and driven inward by his obsession. And I’d have loved more with his free-thinking wife, so beautifully played by Sienna Miller. In this subtly drawn film, even the jungle and home landscapes themselves becomes expressive characters. As I said, it is a bit long at 140 minutes, but I can forgive that since it is a truly fascinating story. Makes me want to do some exploring. I recommend this for adventurers, history buffs, and lovers of unsolved mysteries.
Fun fact: If you loved Jurassic Park, know that Michael Crichton borrowed from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, which was heavily influenced by news reports of Fawcett’s explorations. Doyle and Fawcett were in fact friends at the RGS.