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Nelson Mandela, in his first term as the South African President, initiates a unique venture to unite the apartheid-torn land: enlist the national rugby team on a mission to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
James Gregory once lived in a farm and had befriended a native youth, Bafana, and had even had a photograph taken with him. Years later, now married to Gloria and father of three children (Chris, Brett, and Natasha), James has nothing but shame and regret, as many South African Caucasians in the oppressive Apartheid-era ridiculed him, leading him to hate Africans. He seeks to redeem himself by spying on imprisoned African National Congress Leader, Nelson Mandela. In the restrictive high security prison his job is to censor all written and verbal communications between prisoners, their visitors, and correspondence. James is uncomfortable when he witnesses Caucasian police and security officers' brutality against civilians, including infants, and tries to understand why Nelson became a rebel. This leads him to examine the 'Freedom Charter', a banned document, reportedly known to incite violence against 'whites'. And when he does read this document, he changes his mind about Nelson's ... Written by
[in prison, to his visiting wife, speaking Xhosa; subtitles read]
Tell him that all of us in here agree he should escalate the armed struggle. The country must become ungovernable.
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This is a workmanlike, routine study of James Gregory, (Joseph Fiennes) the prison guard assigned to Nelson Mandela on Robben Island and his burgeoning relationship with the ANC leader, seen then as a trouble- making terrorist.
The title comes from the young black boy that Gregory played with and whose bond was underpinned by an exchange of a bracelet.
This long and faintly boring film never really sparkles or initiates, nor engages. Fiennes, however, is believable as the racist Afrikaner who, along with his materialistic wife gets a posting to Robben Island. She wants him promoted, he soon sees his job as a challenge and find that he mellows toward Mandela and then tries to help him. Diane Kruger, as Gregory's wife is even more racist than he is and she often tries to shape her husband's career into what she sees as traditional white superiority.
Unfortunately, Dennis Haysbert, who plays Mandela, neither looks the part nor radiates the personality that he's now renowned for. True, much of the story though does involve him being under the strict conditions where communication is difficult. The film then progresses onto Mandela's transfer to Pollsmoor Prison, then to Victor Verser prison and then onto freedom.
What is undoubted is that this story will be remade. With a bigger budget, better script and a more carefully chosen cast. Robben Island, seemingly located within sight of Table Top Mountain is akin to Alcatraz and we well know how Hollywood has eked screenplays out of that. As a film lover rather than a apartheid historian, but a respecter of Mandela I look forward to that and would suggest that the majority do the same.
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