Directed by Richard Attenborough
Written by William Nicholson
Starrring Pierce Brosnan, Stewart Bick, Vlasta Vrana, Annie Galipeau
Grey Owl is the story of a real-life fraud. Yet it is a fraud in such a charming and positive way that it becomes the story of a hero.
The movie introduces us to Grey Owl (Pierce Brosnan), a solitary trapper in the Canadian woods in the 1934s. He's sought out by an Objibway woman Anahareo (Annie Galipeau), who sees her people living in modern society and losing their identity. She wants Grey Owl to teach her how to be an Indian. He agrees, and, as time goes by, she urges him to show what he knows about Native American lore to the rest of the world.
Reluctant at first, Grey Owl becomes a major early voice for nature and conservation. His lectures were highly influential* and he was eventually asked to speak in the UK, where his secret is discovered.
It turns out that Grey Owl was no native American; he was born in the UK and emigrated to Canada, where he became enamored of the wilderness life. The fraud was not revealed until his death** though afterwards his reputation suffered, even though most of what he said is basic conservation common sense, whoever says it.
Pierce Brosnan like these opportunities to play someone other than James Bond, and brings out Grey Owl's sincerity. If anything, the film is a bit too sincere, but it is a nice look at an early environmentalist.
*Richard Attenborough, who directed, said he was drawn to the story because his brother David, a well-known naturalist, became interested in learning about nature after hearing Gray Owl speak.
**When a newspaper that had been sitting on the story for three years, felt free to reveal the truth. Journalistic ethics were different back then, and not necessarily worse than they are today.