Richard Attenborough

        Cry Freedom (1987)
        D R A M A

        Biographical drama. 1987. UK. 151 minutes. PG.

        Director: Richard Attenborough - Producer Richard Attenborough - Screenplay John Briley - Photography Ronnie Taylor - Editor Lesley Walker - Music George Fenton, James Gwangwa - Art Director Stuart Craig

        Cast: Kevin Kline, Penelope Wilton, Denzel Washington, Kevin McNally, John Thaw, Timothy West, look out for a young Gwyneth Strong from Only Fools and Horses fame

        (Marble Arch/Universal)

        I thought immediately after this release and still do to this day that this is one the most underrated films ever made. For me it deserves to be thought about with the same reverent tones as Attenborough's masterpiece, Gandhi. I for one can't think of a film on apartheid much better executed that this film. It is the film about the struggle of South Africa's black population against apartheid.

        The screenplay is based on two books by Donald Woods. The books were published only after Wood and his family escaped from South Africa. The final hour of the film emphasises the harrowing fashion of the family escape and their exile in England.

        The film begins in 1975 with the dawn raid by armed police and bulldozers on an illegal shanty town of black squatters. Stephen Biko is at first an enigmatic presence off-screen, loved by blacks for his advocacy of racial self-worth and self-determination but distrusted in equal measure by whites for his perceived violent threat to white society. Even liberals like Wood at first distrust him.

        As the film progresses, Biko realises he needs the help of an alliance with the liberals he so dislikes. He arranges to meet woods... an invitation the editor can't turn down.

        Kevin Kline minimal low-key screen presence works well here and all the supporting cast are good. But this is about Denzel Washington as Biko. He is absolutely astonishing. This is up there with his Malcolm X portrayal and provides yet more conclusive proof that he is one of the greatest actors of this or any other generation. He is a mesmerising black nationalist leader. You can't see where Biko ends and Washington begins.

        It was Biko's refusal to keep silent which led to his death in police custody and the subsequent coverup.

        Attenborough has been the best British film director for over thirty years now. He has taken the baton from David Lean and made always watchable movies with a range of subject matter that few could equal. Of course there are the biographies but in his opus are musicals and stirring war movies. Though his films are recognised and well-repected I do think that 'time' will consider them masterpieces and his directing career will be seen in the same echelons as all the British greats from Hitchcock, Powell & Pressburger, Carol Reed and the aforementioned Lean.

        And they are considered among the best film directors the world has ever seen.

        1987: Nomination: Best Original Score, Song (Cry Freedom)

        5 stars out of 5.

        © Paul Page, Lenin, 2013

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