on 6 August 2007
This story tells the true tale of a boy called Archie, brought up in then-genteel Hasting on the South Coast of England. Always fascinated by Native Americans (aka Red Indians) --which made me wonder about karma-- he eventually set off for a life in the wild North of Canada, living as a hunter, trapper and guide. The film does not flinch from showing the callous and basically cowardly nature of some "sportsmen" who wished to "get" a bear or other beautiful animal with their high-powered rifles, a pathology made worse by the (somewhat later) outpourings of the fake hero, Ernest Hemingway. One of the shooters is a paper mill owner and publisher who gets Grey Owl, as Archie is no known, into print. At that time, Grey Owl meets and marries an Indian girl from a small town. She thinks he is a half-Indian for years. Finding two orphaned beaver, she adopts them and, after a grisly trapping of another beaver, Grey Owl understands the wickedness of trapping and hunting and writes about the need to conserve and protect wildlife. He becomes world famous, even meeting King George V; his lectures are packed, his books bestsellers. The Native American chiefs realize he is not one of them ethnically but they respect him and honour him. Eventually, one of those modern scavengers, a journalist, finds out the "truth" but after hearing a lecture, honourably agrees to leave the scandal until after Grey Owl's death (2 years later, in 1938, from cancer). Perhaps Grey Owl should have spoken out as the white man he was and not as a "fake", but here again, he was only a fake in obscuring his origins, the rest was authentic. And above all, he was one of the the fathers of the modern movement to protect and conserve animals, particularly in Canada and the United States. As the film attests at tis end, that legacy is worth so much more than the misleading parts of his early CV.
"Grey Owl" is one of Richard Attenborough's less well known films, which is a great pity because it is one of his best, and deserves to be better known. One BBC critic said of the film "If you like cuddly animals or you fancy Pierce Brosnan, you're in luck", which whilst I admit is quite funny, is also a bit unfair. Many people also laughed at the idea of Pierce Brosnan playing an Indian. Not so preposterous as one might think looking back on the life of Archibald Belaney, also known as Grey Owl, the man he portrays in the film. As a schoolboy Belaney soaked up books on native Americans, and when he was old enough he took to the wilds of Canada where he became adopted by the Ojibwe tribe. Later he wrote of his experiences in books that became huge bestsellers in their time, although his reputation suffered after revelations about his identity following his sadly premature death. Books like "Tales of an Empty Cabin" and "Pilgrims of the Wild" are still read today. I happen to believe that his book "The Tree" is one of the greatest short stories ever written. He was a true `apostle of the wilderness' who crusaded to save the natural wonders of our world. He was a man way ahead of his time, and made the perfect material for a good film, which Attenborough duly obliged with, although many years after his death. Better late than never!
In the film I believe Pierce Brosnan does an excellent job of portraying "Grey Owl" a white man `gone injun', who wrestles with the knowledge he is nothing but a fraud. The film contains some genuinely moving scenes. I especially liked the scene where he is asked to give a talk to assembled Indian chiefs, who it soon becomes clear are not ignorant of his ancestry, but accept him as one who `dreamed well'. There is another where he opens his soul and confesses the truth to his Indian wife, and of course the telling scene where he returns to Hastings. When you read Grey Owl's books you will feel his genuine concern for the natural world. His deep understanding and love of all things wild are evident. He was certainly no fraud! Look no further than the House of Commons to find a whole passel of those pesky varmits. This film is also surprisingly well researched, with some inevitable artistic licence. The pristine Canadian wilderness makes for some ravishing cinematography. This is a most thoughtful and enjoyable film. Not your average western for sure! It is more a case of, it is not what we see on the outside that matters nearly so much as what is inside. I happen to have some of the books like "Two Little Savages" that sat on the bookshelf in Belaney's old Hastings room, so I understand his dreams. But he had the courage to take his dreams a step further and actually lived them out. You have to admire him for that!
on 26 December 2001
This film was famous only for being on the shelf for a couple of years. Then reviewers only laughed at the idea of Pierce Brosnan playing a Red Indian. Subsequently very few cinemas showed it.
I managed to catch an early morning performance months after release, sneaking in with an 'Oldies Club' audience. I was not holding my breath for them or me to be blown away by it... but straight away I was fascinated by its simplicity as a story and its wonderfully calm and relaxing effect. It was a perfect antidote to stressful examinations at school I was revising for!
The cinematography of the wilds of Canada and its inhabitants felt like a documentary and you almost expected the director's brother to narrate the proceedings. The pace is slow and methodical, something in Attenborough's films, that have made him a love-him or loathe-him artist.
Raw emotion is one of his excellent qualities and he makes the actors feel like they don't have to act to impress the audience, just to tell like it is. The cameos by Hollywood's well known Red Indians add to the cast list a depth, even if their roles are limited. Fenton's music is light and dreamy - and the usual Attenborough crew perform admirably conveying the story about Archie in his travels as entertainment.
The defining moment in the film for me however is when Archie returns to his house in Hastings, reunited with his Aunts. He makes his way to his old bedroom where his inspiration was born. It was wonderful for some reason, really emotional and satisfying.
Simplicity and calm has never been so engaging in a film. Obviously I am a fan, but I do think people should not expect something epic or ground breaking in every film they see. People should see this film if they want to be told a story, and who appreciate nature and its beauty as much as Grey Owl himself did.
on 17 January 2005
Most seem to have missed the point of this film. Grey Owl was a young boy dissillusioned with British life and set out for Canada to live with the Native Indian peoples. The story is largely based on truth and the major fact that he was accepted and adopted by the Indian people themselves. This film further shows the truth behind much of todays conservation and national parks, as it was through the efforts of this man that Canada set up its first national park and protected species of plant and wildlife. I saw this film in the States at te time of release, then on the flight back, followed by a visit to a cinema near me to see it a third time. for me this film is a must for my collection covering the Americas and those who cared for the land. I would recommend this to any of my friends who have an interest in hunting for food, etc and not just for pleasure, interseted in presevation and or Native American Indian subjects.
As for another commentator saying that the film critics slanted this film and showings were rare owing to Brosnan playing an Indian, Grey Owl was born on the south coast of England so was a 'white man', may I suggest you watch the film and make up your own mind.
on 28 May 2011
Surprised to see a couple of negative reviews of this. It's definitely not a bad film, maybe a little gentle and slow for some people's tastes. For me, slow and gentle is a good thing as long as it is quality - which this undoubtedly is. It's no Last of the mohicans or Black Robe. The only violence here is a couple of animal traps at the beginning which quickly turns into a crisis of consciousness for our hero which in turn sparks his quest for conservation of the west as opposed to it's exploitation.
It's a very rounded film. Authentic looking and beautifully shot, whether it be the lush outdoors of the old west or the homely interiors of old Hastings. There is a consistent, mature quality to both the look and tone of the film. It could have easily spilled into sentimentality or preachiness but it does neither. It handles the subject sincerely and with warmth and charm.
Perfect sunday afternoon viewing.
on 25 January 2011
A man ahead of his time. . . .Living the dream
If there was ever a Western European `Pathfinder' in terms of environmental conservation then that person, surely, has to, be recognized and acknowledged as Archie Belaney, aka `Grey Owl'. This accurate, albeit edited, portrayal of his life has, patently, been painstakingly researched and I, believe, does a high degree of justice to his life, associates and era.
Contrary to one other review, I believe Pierce Brosnan gives a highly commendable and inspired performance, portraying the character of Grey Owl with sensitivity, conviction and passion, in addition to, more than adequately, conveying compassion for the animals and environment he respects, loves and wishes to conserve for future generations.
This film, admirably, captures the mood and attitudes of the era and Pierce Brosnan is more than competently supported by other members of the cast including: Graham Green, Annie Galipeau [what an absolute delight, she is as `Pony', Archie Belaney's love interest] Nathaniel Arcand [Ned White Bear] Stewart Bick, Vlasta Vrana, and finally, among others, Jimmy Herman who gives a wonderfully natural performance as Chief Pete Misabi.
As someone who has, also, been privileged to reside among the Ojibwe People in Wisconsin I can, personally, vouch for their extremely kind hospitality, in addition to their generosity of spirit, their wonderful sense of humour and warm-heartedness and how, as a people, they would have afforded Archie Belaney shelter and taught him the tracking methods and skills to which he would quickly become accustomed and earn his living, prior to becoming an advocate and lecturer for the conservation of wildlife and the environment, in Canada.
I wholeheartedly agree with the reviewer who stated they found the defining moment in the film to be when Archie returns to his home in Hastings and while visiting with his Aunts repays a visit to his room where he nurtured his dream and his inspiration was born. This moment is almost electrifying in its intensity, the atmosphere portrayed is extremely touching and the scene, while simple, proves emotionally very moving.
This film is highly recommended and overall in my considered opinion, is certainly a, well-rounded, exceptionally enjoyable film to watch, interlaced with drama, moments of tenderness and compassion, in addition to which it raises serious questions in regard to our present, conflicting attitude toward the environment [understanding the absolute need to conserve while, at one and the same time, viciously exploiting vital resources] while remaining thought-provoking throughout and confronts the viewer, if only `between the lines' with the numerous and overwhelming, plethora of environmental challenges with which the human, global, populace is faced with, today.
Watching this film is a wonderful, beautiful, serene antidote to all the gratuitous violence frequently observed in films, these days and a welcome sanctuary from the regrettably, harsh, sadly brutal, often selfish and extremely stressful society in which we now reside.
Arhie Belaney, Grey Owl - A name which was bestowed upon him, which he earned, deserved, did justice to and indeed honored. Over time, through his books, lecture tours, commitment, earnest endeavours and subsequent accomplishments, proved beyond any shadow of doubt, in terms of a European citizen and non-Native individual, he truly was a man ahead of his time, who dreamed and dreamed well.
". . . .Remember you belong to Nature, not it to you. . . ."
Rest in Peace - Wa-Sha-Quon-Asin, He-Who-Flies-By-Night
on 29 October 2009
I read a pretty negative review of this film here on Amazon but decided to buy the film all the same. If you are the type of person that believes in following your heart and having the courage to create a life that is rich and satisfying - then I think that you will value this film. If you believe in caring for our great planet and walking gently on the earth - then I think you will like this film. Grey Owl could have been seen as a charlatan, but he was true to himself and what more can can anyone ask and this is all beautifully portrayed in this visually stunning and touching film. I'd be happy to watch it time and time again!
on 4 November 2009
a film I have seen before and liked enough to buy dvd. Based on a true story, it's a great tale and the scenary is lovely. I've watched it again several times and haven't grown tired of it even though now I know the film and what happens. It's a excellent story and because this person really existed and fooled everyone into believing him to be a real native American, how he got away with it is amazing. I'd recommend this film to anyone, it's one of my favourites.
on 5 January 2012
I loved this film,its holds the attention thoughout,the scenery is stunning of course,acting and direction superb,this is my favorite film really I've watched it many times.
A story of a boy from Hastings England who had a dream and unlike most of us actually followed it through and became a native American Indian in his manner,although later to be found to be a fake,it was not his intention to mislead,the dream took him over.
It is not the colour of ones skin but the character that matters.
He became as a trapper in Canada living with the natives and ended up being a conservationst,one of of the first who established a national park for the protection of the wildlife.
Not bad for a boy who lived up the road from me in Hastings,I have walked the woods and the peaceful firehills where he did,I can see how he became to love nature and the 1st Nation peoples that he read about so much he wanted to live in that way.He realised Canada would be the best place.
I salute Grey Owl,who dreamed well.
How many dream of a better life than this but never actually fullfil themselves?
Anyone who dislikes this film must be fast asleep.
on 23 October 2015
Yes, I liked this film. I had seen it before, though, only some years ago and watching it again now, I noticed that I hadn't really remembered much from it. I had read the book as a teenager first, as the wilds of Canada and Alaska have always been of great interest to me. Only, I didn't ever really get up and go out there like Pierce Brosnan's character, who was based on a real-life man, from Hastings, UK.