The winy, berry-like flavor of Kenya coffee beans may be easy enough to find these days at the nearest Starbucks, but a century ago, the idea of coffee grown in the Kenyan hills must have seemed a novelty. At least, that’s the way Out of Africa presents it. When Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) arrives in Kenya from Denmark in 1913, she’s surprised to learn that her new husband, Bror (Klaus Maria Brandauer) has decided to turn their land into a coffee plantation instead of a dairy farm. Everyone else tells the Blixens that they’re crazy to grow coffee beans, especially since it’ll take years before they have a viable harvest. Making it more difficult for Karen are Bror’s frequent hunting and safari trips, leaving her to run the farm essentially by herself.
According to the memoir of the same title by Blixen (a.k.a. Isak Dinesen), it took nearly 20 years for the farm to fail, thanks to poor business decisions and the falling price of coffee after World War I. The 1985 movie, however, telescopes the plantation’s demise into a much shorter period, climaxing with a cataclysmic fire that destroys both the farm’s bean harvest and its roasting factory. Imagine, though, if she’d been able to hold out; the name Dinesen might be better known today for lattes than letters.
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