Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. United Kingdom, 1987. Universal Pictures, Marble Arch Productions. Screenplay by John Briley, based on the books Biko and Asking For Trouble by Donald Woods. Cinematography by Ronnie Taylor. Produced by Richard Attenborough. Music by George Fenton, Jonas Gwangwa. Production Design by Stuart Craig. Costume Design by John Mollo. Film Editing by Lesley Walker. Academy Awards 1987. Golden Globe Awards 1987. National Board of Review Awards 1987.
Newspaper editor Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) considers himself a liberal with a fair and unbiased opinion about racial inequality in his native South Africa, viewing a freedom fighter like Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) as a reckless activist for an otherwise worthy cause. An article about Biko in Woods’ newspaper is seen as incendiary anti-black propaganda and convinces him to meet the man in question, opening Kline’s eyes to the injustices of the government that have seen black men incarcerated without cause for years and, in many cases, killed in prison without the cause of their deaths being brought to light. Eventually he is so moved by what he learns that Woods decides to write a book about his experiences but quickly realizes that he has made himself as big an enemy of the state as his friend did, which means that he must escape the country. This very large epic drama behaves as if it knows all too well that it will earn admiration for its subject matter and is a little presumptuous about anticipating accolades for what is actually an uneven script and sometimes lackluster direction, not to mention a lead performance by Kline that is hampered by an inconsistent accent. What it has going for it is the charisma of Washington, then getting his film career off the ground following his success on prime time television, plus a terrific Penelope Wilton as Woods’ wife. Made, quite admirably, a number of years before the toppling of the Apartheid regime is a gutsy move in itself, but don’t be surprised if the film is at times a chore to sit through in its entirety.