On The Small Screen Reviews

Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist – TV Review

Gorillas are incredible beasts. They have striking personalities and a strong presence. Part of our family, they are wonderful mammals. The woman who walked with them was Dian Fossey – a name now shrouded in mystery.

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The three-part miniseries due to screen on the Nat Geo channel revolves around Dian Fossey’s life and work in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda. She was well known for the conservation of the gorillas in the country as well as pioneering research into their behaviours. However, in December 27th 1985, Fossey was found brutally murdered in her Karisoke cabin. With her controversial tactics threatening relationships with local government and poachers as well as concern from her own camp, her murder still remains a complete mystery. In this series, we look at the life she led, the work she did, and the problems that had arisen when she faced off with the poachers who wanted to slay the gorillas.

Director Zara Hayes has put together a powerful portrait of a woman who strived for this species. Her work led to thousands of gorillas being saved as well as providing humanity with a deeper understanding of the mammals. In fact, gorillas have never looked so wonderful in this glorious documentary that showcases the animals then and now, showing not just their intimidating presences but also their tenderness and intricacies.

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Through stock footage, testimonies, and reconstructions, the life of Fossey is weaved in this powerful documentary. Included in the voices are Sigourney Weaver who played Fossey in real-life biopic Gorillas in the Mist and David Attenborough who visited Karisoke for a small period of time. There’s a carefulness about the documentary to balance many different voices. Though her work and connection with the Gorillas’ is unparalleled (even Attenborough says that there is no person who has single-handedly saved an entire species,) Fossey treated the local community and poachers with contempt. Secrets in the Mist allows this side to come through and instead of making judgements, lays bare the controversies of Fossey and keeps it alongside the great work she did.

Hayes also unearths a lot, including building up imitations of Fossey’s life with the scientists own items, including, sadly, Christmas presents that have not been opened in 22 years. It is with this astonishing commitment to detail that Haye’s work here strives forward in a compelling way and engrosses you to the story at hand.

There are stark and brutal images here, especially when the aftermath of poachers are revealed as well as the examination of Fossey’s own murder. One particular gorilla death is shown and it is deeply disturbing and highly upsetting. For those hoping for a sweet look at Fossey and the gorillas, this will be a harsh uncovering. However, intimate, intelligent, and incredibly filmed, Secrets in the Mist is a daring series that will intrigue completely.


Secrets in the Mist premieres tonight at 8pm over at the Nat Geo channel! 

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