Nicolas Roeg’s 1986 film starring Amanda Donohoe and Oliver Reed is based on Lucy Irvine’s book of the same name published three years before. As such it gives her version of events in which her companion Gerald Kingsland, who at fifty-two was roughly twice her age, had advertised for a younger ‘wife’ to take to a desert island for a year. Irvine’s book is one that can easily be found nowadays in charity shops (when they are permitted to open, that is), my hardback copy I purchased for just 50p, so it must have been published and purchased in large quantities back in the day. Kingsland’s account The Islander is more difficult to find, my copy having been purchased on-line; and it is worth getting hold of to get a more balanced view. Given how well-known Irvine’s book became at the time, it is surprising that the film is only available on a German DVD (which is in English with optional German subtitles).
The film portrays Kingsland as being lazy, but then casting Oliver Reed in the role came with baggage anyway, not least his large paunch, whereas Kingsland from photos of the time was quite slender. From his previous experience he taught Irvine many of the survival skills that she needed though from the film you wouldn’t guess this. Donohoe with her lithe, toned figure, nicely proportioned breasts and lack of inhibitions about screen nudity was the ideal choice for playing Irvine. It is just that the film makes her out as being more sexually reluctant than Kingsland’s book does, but then he might have been expected to talk up their sexual relationship that developed towards the end of their stay. One other flaw with the film is that the ‘body doubles’ used in the scene where they have been without food for a long time are clearly different, more so in Reed’s case, where his chubby face was still shown.
Kingsland’s book also details that Tuin Island in the Torres Strait was his third attempt at playing Robinson Crusoe and whilst he didn’t necessarily come across as a likeable character, his two previous attempts are interesting to give a background to the character in Castaway. His time on Cocos Island, governed by Costa Rica, being the first account and quite an interesting one. His second abortive attempt was in the Juan Fernandez Archipelago administered by Chile, this one having been cut short because he couldn’t get to Alexander Selkirk Island, named after the man who became the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s hero, though Selkirk himself lived on what became known as Robinson Crusoe Island which features in the book. Kingsland’s temporary Girl Friday he only maintained a platonic relationship with as per their understanding all along.