Directed by: James Gray
Written by: James Gray
Produced by: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Anthony Katagas, James Gray, Dale Armin Johnson
Other cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero
Release date: 14 April 2017
Premiere date: 15 October 2016 (New York Film Festival)
Genre: Adventure, drama
Running time: 141 minutes
A true-life drama, centering on British explorer Major Percival Fawcett, who disappeared whilst searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.
In 1905, Percy Fawcett is a young British officer participating in a stag hunt on an Irish baronial estate for the benefit of the visiting Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. A skilled horseman and marksman, he brings down the stag swiftly but is snubbed at the after-hunt party. A year later, Fawcett is sent to London to meet with officials of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). The governments of Bolivia and Brazil are nearly at war over the location of their mutual boundary and its direct effect on the region’s extremely lucrative rubber trade, and have asked the British government to survey it. Fawcett agrees to lead the survey party to restore his family’s good name. Aboard a ship to Brazil, Fawcett meets Corporal Henry Costin, who has knowledge of the Amazon rainforest. At a large rubber plantation in the jungle owned by the Portuguese nobleman Baron de Gondoris, the two meet Corporal Arthur Manley,[a] who tells them that the British government advises against further exploration. Fawcett, with several guides and the Amazonian scout Tadjui, completes the mission. Tadjui tells Fawcett stories about a jungle city covered in gold and full of people. Fawcett dismisses such stories as insane ravings, but discovers highly advanced broken pottery and some small stone statues in the jungle that convince him of the veracity of Tadjui’s story.
Fawcett is praised upon his return, where his wife, Nina, has given birth to their second son. In the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Nina discovers a conquistador text which tells of a city deep in the Amazonian jungle. Fawcett meets the renowned biologist James Murray, who agrees to back Fawcett’s expedition to the Amazon to find what Fawcett calls “the Lost City of Z”. Fawcett attempts to convince the members of the RGS to back the expedition, but is publicly ridiculed. Nevertheless, the RGS backs the expedition to further exploration of the Amazon basin. Murray, unfamiliar with the rigors of the deep jungle, slows the party down significantly. Fawcett’s party is attacked while traveling along the river. However, Fawcett makes peace with the natives. Murray suffers a leg injury which becomes severely infected, and begins to go mad. Fawcett sends him off with a native guide and the group’s last pack animal to find aid. Fawcett’s team are forced to abandon the expedition after discovering that Murray poured paraffin on their remaining supplies.
Murray survives and, in front of the RGS trustees, accuses Fawcett of abandoning him in the jungle and demands an apology from him. Fawcett elects to resign from the society rather than apologise. The First World War breaks out in Europe, and Fawcett goes to France to fight. Manley dies in the trenches at the Battle of the Somme, and Fawcett is temporarily blinded in a chlorine gas attack. Fawcett’s eldest son, Jack, who had long accused Fawcett of abandoning the family, reconciles with his father as he recovers.
In 1923, Fawcett is living in obscurity in England. North American interest in exploring the Amazon has reached fever pitch, primarily due to Fawcett’s stories of the lost city. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and a consortium of U.S. newspapers finance a new expedition by Fawcett. The RGS co-funds the expedition at the last moment to maintain British pride. Fawcett shows Sir John Scott Keltie a compass, informing Keltie that should he (Fawcett) find the lost city, the compass will be sent back to England. Fawcett and his son intend to go alone this time, traveling as light as they can for up to three years in order to find ‘Z’. Fawcett invites Costin, but he declines. Fawcett and Jack are attacked by natives and escape, only to be ambushed again. This second tribe gives the Fawcetts a fair hearing, but are puzzled by them, noticing that their spirits aren’t wholly of their own world but also not wholly of the Amazon. They declare that the spirits of the Fawcetts “must belong” somewhere and they will help them find their rightful place. Fawcett and Jack are drugged during a ceremony and carried away.
Some years later, Nina Fawcett meets with Keltie at the RGS, claiming she has heard that Fawcett and Jack are still alive and are living among tribes-people. The RGS, having sent more than a hundred people to search for Fawcett in the intervening years, declines to send another expedition. Keltie advises Nina to come to terms with her husband’s death, but she refuses. Nina instead opens her purse, to give Keltie the compass Fawcett had promised to send were he to have found the lost city. As Nina leaves, her reflection in a mirror shows her walking out into what looks like the Amazonian jungle.
In February 2009, James Gray was hired by Paramount Pictures and Plan B Entertainment to write and direct the film based on David Grann’s book, but the film ultimately remained in development hell for six years. In a 2015 interview with IndieWire, Gray admitted that he had developed the script for a while before moving toward production. He explained that the film was a “very complicated production and the story is amazing, but it’s a complicated story. And you want to get it right. It’s a very, very scary proposition to go into the jungle and all that. But at the same time it’s terrific. It’s why you make movies.”
The lead role underwent numerous casting changes. Brad Pitt was initially to star as Fawcett, additionally providing production duties through his company Plan B Entertainment. In November 2010, Pitt withdrew from the lead role due to scheduling conflicts, but remained attached as producer. On 4 September 2013, Benedict Cumberbatch came on board to portray Fawcett, along with Robert Pattinson, who joined the cast in the role of Costin. In February 2015, Cumberbatch also dropped out due to scheduling conflicts, and was replaced by Charlie Hunnam, while Sienna Miller was cast as Nina Fawcett.
Principal photography began on 19 August 2015, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and continued for five weeks until late September. On 28 August, the production shot at Greyabbey Village and Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. Charlie Hunnam and Sienna Miller filmed scenes at Ballintoy, County Antrim, on 31 August, and additional shooting took place at Craigavon House, East Belfast on 2 September.
On 7 September 2015, scenes were filmed at Belfast City Hall and on the grounds of Royal Belfast Academical Institution. Scenes were also shot at Bangor Castle leisure centre on 13 September 2015. Filming then moved to Santa Marta, Colombia, and continued through September and October.
The film had its world premiere as the closing night film at the 54th New York Film Festival on 15 October 2016. Prior to that, StudioCanal acquired international distribution rights to the film, while Amazon Studios obtained distribution rights in the United States and released it theatrically on 14 April 2017. The film was released in France on 15 March 2017 and in the United Kingdom on 24 March 2017.
In February 2017, the film was presented at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival in the Berlinale Special section, and played as the opening night film of Boston International Film Festival on 13 April 2017. For its 2 June 2017 release in Mainland China, the film was trimmed by 37 minutes to make its total runtime 104 minutes.
The Lost City of Z grossed $8.6 million in the United States & Canada and $10.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $19.3 million against a production budget of $30 million.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 87% based on 238 reviews, with an average rating of 7.35/10.
The decision to shoot on 35mm may have been the film’s saving grace, as the production team’s computers and equipment would succumb to the jungle conditions.
Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson both lost around 20-40 lb by only eating the minimum per day while filming in the jungle.
Tom Holland broke his nose on his very last day of shooting by doing a salto backwards in between takes.
Filming included so many fake gunshots and explosions that it scared local farmers, who complained to local newspapers and tv stations.
Charlie Hunnam plays the father of Tom Holland. In reality, Hunnam is only 17 years older than Holland.