Heart of Darkness

by: Joseph Conrad

Movie Adaptations

Further study Movie Adaptations

Heart of Darkness, 1958
Director: Ron Winston
Notable cast: Roddy McDowall, Boris Karloff, Eartha Kitt, Inga Swenson

Ron Winston’s adaptation appeared as part of the Playhouse 90 television series, and it featured several changes to Conrad’s story. Kurtz is now Marlow’s foster father, and instead of Kurtz’s Intended, Winston included Maria, Marlow’s foster sister, with whom he has a borderline incestuous relationship. The filmmakers also added an African Queen character. Commentators have consistently described Winston’s adaptation as dated and “weird.”

Apocalypse Now, 1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Notable cast: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen

Apocalypse Now is the most famous film adaptation of Heart of Darkness, even though the screenwriters transplanted the action from late-nineteenth-century Congo to the height of the Vietnam War (1969–79). The screenwriters also took liberties with the story. For instance, Willard (the Marlow character) is an assassin sent to kill Kurtz. Even so, the film retains Conrad’s depiction of Kurtz as a figure with delusions of grandeur.

Heart of Darkness, 1993
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Notable Cast: Tim Roth, John Malkovich

This television adaptation follows the plot of Conrad’s novella closely. Roeg’s film received praise for its sound editing, as well as for John Malkovich’s portrayal of Kurtz. Nevertheless, critics largely dismissed the film for being uninspired. Critic Dennis Schwartz, for instance, wrote: “It's a faithful and respectable version of Conrad's great classic, but not one that's memorable or exciting.”