MANDELA AND DE KLERK painstakingly chronicles the arduous process of ending apartheid in South Africa. Despite a lavish production (for a made-for-cable feature) and a sprinkling of fine acting, what should have been a moving film is merely a dry history lesson.
The racist government of South Africa errs in thinking it can erode its opposition by imprisoning Nelson Mandela (Sidney Poitier) and other members of the African National Congress. By undervaluing the symbolic appeal of Mandela, Prime Minister Botha (Gerry Maritz) miscalculates his waiting game.
Buoyed by visits from his wife, Winnie (Tina Lifford), Mandela survives 27 years in jail, while around the world support for his cause grows.
Ignoring the advice of top advisors like F.W. De Klerk (Michael Caine), Botha can't stem the tide of historical change, especially when his intransigence leads to bouts of civil disobedience from the masses. However, the People's Movement is jeopardized by Winnie's militant posture. A 14-year-old
is found beaten to death in her living quarters; Winnie starts to become a political liability. After the US imposes economic sanctions on South Africa, the more liberal De Klerk forces Botha to step down from power. Despite a transfer to house arrest, prickly Mandela continues to argue with De
Klerk, point by point. Aware of his own place in history, De Klerk is blinded to corruption in his own government; a secret police squad instigates black-against-black riots that threaten De Klerk's peace talks. A key figure in the African National Congress is assassinated by racists. Despite the
resurfacing of the Winnie Mandela scandal, Mandela prevents the proliferation of bloodshed. In South Africa's first democratic elections, Mandela is elected President over the ambitious De Klerk.
As it reiterates key historic events, this laudatory but hollow docudrama fails to involve the viewer. One sympathizes with the screenwriter's burden in having to compress so many incidents, but that doesn't explain the film's emotional reticence. Despite Poitier's meticulous embodiment of
Mandela's steely strength and Caine's skillful impersonation of De Klerk's pragmatism, the two stars strike no sparks together. Their scenes in tandem exude the sputtering force of a debate whose outcome we know too well. A more forceful version of Mandela's heroic crusade would carry an element
of surprise; we should feel as if we're watching the liberation movement unfold--not enshrining it in some musty pageant-play for posterity. That lack of spontaneity diminishes the lessons to be learned from the anti-apartheid struggle. Just as troubling is the biopic's failure to come to terms
with the Nelson-Winnie relationship. This should be a breathtaking love story forged in separation and adversity and climaxed by betrayal. None of that juice is palpable on screen. (Graphic violence, profanity, adult situations.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1997
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: MANDELA AND DE KLERK painstakingly chronicles the arduous process of ending apartheid in South Africa. Despite a lavish production (for a made-for-cable feature) and a sprinkling of fine acting, what should have been a moving film is merely a dry history l… (more)