Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert
The film’s release during Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday week is timely. The intentions are unquestionably sincere -- to revive the memory of the long years Mandela spent in prison in South Africa.
Based on the memoirs of James Gregory,
traces the career of the former prison warden from 1968 when he was assigned to guard the most famous inmate on Robben Island, to Mandela’s eventual release in early 1990.
Directed by the multiple Cannes Palme D’Or laureate Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror, The Best Intentions), here’s a political drama tempered with a human interest angle.<b1>
A white Afrikaner who supported apartheid, Gregory’s (Fiennes) beliefs changed through the gradual bond he forged with the black opposition leader (Haysbert).
Initially, the white man had attempted to indoctrinate his children with racial prejudices. But his conscience was stirred following the tragic death of Mandela’s eldest son. Proud to walk by the freedom fighter’s side from that point, his former oppressor is even beaten up for being a ‘kaffir lover.’
Some critics have questioned the reliability of the source material, alleging that Gregory fabricated his close friendship with Mandela. Also, towards the climax the film does tend to get too solemn and sentimental.
Yet nothing can take away from the powerful performance by Joseph Fiennes. By contrast, Dennis Haysbert comes across as passive and ineffectual. With its pros and cons, this docudrama keeps us fairly engrossed for its running time of two hours.