Retro Review: I Dreamed of Africa

Who is Kuki Gallman?

This epic true story tells the tale of a woman’s struggle to tame her new family and the wilds of Africa. Kim Basinger plays Kuki Gallman, a single mother who marries a close friend (Vincent Perez) who has dreams of running a cattle ranch in Kenya. Moving her new family to Africa, Kuki begins her journey but the move is only half the battle as she has to face lions, torrential winds, the culture of Kenya and even a loss that would change her forever.

“I Dreamed of Africa” is all over the map as the script tries to be a narrative chronicle of Kuki’s story but it never delivers the depth into her mind we need. What we do get it is an outside look at her and her troubles. This bugs me because so much of this journey is a personal one.

I remember the film “Born Free” which was another very personal tale of a woman’s struggle in Africa. That tale was so personal that we did feel involved in who she was. “I Dreamed of Africa” does have all the emotion, torment and shock that would deliver a magnificent story but the screenwriter never delivers us into the psyche of a woman going through this journey.

The times where we heard Basinger’s voice seemingly reading from the novel was a partial glimpse into this extraordinary woman but she never was fleshed out. What could have made that kind of depth appear would be if they maybe finished the whole “egg” over the bed thing. Why didn’t we see what was inside it? It could have helped deepen the relationship between Kuki and her husband.

Basinger’s performance is steadfast, strong and resilient but it deserved a better place to project from. You can see deep into Basinger’s eyes the horror, conflict and emotion the character she plays is going through but something seems to be absent as the script never lets focuses deep into her struggle. I often found myself wanting that kind of realism in this script that it became annoying.

Why can’t we see into this woman’s soul, connect with her and then learn from her.

As with every Africa movie there is always a huge allure and buzz about the breathtaking scenery.

This film really does play with that aspect creating breathtaking atmosphere for the most enchanting moments of the film. The best moments were when we heard Kuki talk to herself. I so wish there was more of that in this personal story.

“I Dreamed of Africa” could have been a great film or mini-series if it slowed down to develop in more detail Kuki and the people around her. By developing the depth you add scope and allure to Kuki’s struggle. This concept is familiar in such films as “Braveheart” and “Dances with Wolves”.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

Written: May 3, 2000

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