Premieres Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009
9-11 PM on PBS
(check your local TV guide
for exact time and date in
Fascinating PBS drama re: The end of apartheid
By RON MILLER
I'll be honest with you: I took a little vacation from PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" while it was rummaging around in Jane Austen's closet for yet another round of remakes of her classic novels. I think I've now seen all the Jane Austen movies I can handle in my lifetime.
Which is why I'm positively ecstatic about "Endgame," the absolutely stunningly rich and dramatic two-hour drama that comes to Masterpiece Contemporary this Sunday (9-11 PM on most PBS stations.) This is a knockout piece of filmmaking by feature filmmaker Pete Travis that dramatizes the tense negotiations that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa.
This is extremely relevant drama, believe me, because I couldn't help but wonder if courageous men in Israel and the Gaza strip could learn from the South African situation. If they could hunker down and start similar negotiations in good faith, perhaps they could achieve peace between Arabs and Israelis, give Palestinians a homeland and end the worst ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
I remember the coming of majority rule in South Africa as one of the world's greatest accomplishments in my lifetime. Forever etched in my memory are the scenes of Nelson Mandela being released from his long years in prison as a result of those negotiations--and his eventual rise to become leader of both black and white South Africans.
But I had no idea of just how complex the process was that led to those moments of greatness. "Endgame" does a beautiful job of filling out the story and making us aware of who the real behind-the-scenes players were.
As the story begins in the mid-1980s, South Africa was on the brink of civil war. Black freedom fighters were using guerilla tactics and terrorist strategies to combat the iron fist of the white minority that ruled the land. For a white man to venture unprotected into one of the black village enclaves was nearly a suicidal act. Yet British negotiator Michael Young (Jonny Lee Miller) bravely begins the process of meeting with key figures in the revolutionary movement, trying to find a way to put leaders of both sides into meaningful talks that might lead to peace and an end to the national racist policy of apartheid.
Eventually, this leads to meetings between two men who would become crucial figures in the talks--white Prof. Will Esterhuyse (William Hurt) and Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who was destined to become president of South Africa. Esterhuyse must convince Mbeki to renounce violence and to help persuade Mandela (Clarke Peters) to take a stand against terrorism. In return, Mbeki must make sure that the white government is sincere about a process that inevitably would lead to black rule of the nation.
These two men, meeting often under the most trying of circumstances, must gradually learn to trust each other. In a climate where car bombs are going off every day and white secret police are dragging away blacks to uncertain fates, this is almost an impossible goal to meet. Or is it?
Hurt, the Oscar-winning best actor of 1985 for "Kiss of the Spider Woman," has not had a role this good in decades. This is a fabulous performance, which he does with an Afrikaans accent that sounds flawless to me. Equally good is Ejiofor, who was been in several major feature films, including "American Gangster."
If you think this is a stolid drama that takes place in conference rooms, forget about it. "Endgame" is put together like a thriller and feels like one as the would-be peacemakers live in constant fear of attack by one side or the other. The script, adapted from Robert Harvey's book "The Fall of Apartheid," is by Paula Milne, the brilliant writer of several past programs for PBS' mystery, including "Die Kinder" (1990), "Chandler & Co." (1994) and "Second Sight" (1999), the series with Clive Owen as a police detective who's losing his eyesight.
Though the TV season is young, "Endgame" will be remembered at awards time next year. It's a grand production, brimming with excitement.
©2009 by Ron Miller. This column first posted Oct. 19, 2009.
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