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Cry Freedom (1987)

Richard Attenborough’s Cry Freedom is in the same league as his award-winning Gandhi (1982) – a rare, uplifting film that manages to thrill and excite its audience, glueing you to your seat and teaching you something at the same time about the world you live in.

It’s the true story of Steve Biko (played by Denzel Washington), leader of the oppressed black nations in South Africa, who was imprisoned without trial and tortured to death in police custody in 1977.

It’s also the harrowing story of Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), a white newspaper editor brave and honest enough to risk his life to ferret out the truth.

With an ugly racist state as the backdrop, the friendship that developed between these two opposing forces changed their lives. Biko showed Woods how black men live under the horror of apartheid-banned, segregated, little more than slaves – and as Biko educated Woods, Attenborough educates us all.

South Africa comes alive. The smells, the music, the sounds invade our senses while the vast canvas of life under dictatorship invades our consciences.

After Biko’s death, Woods was branded a traitor. Under house arrest, he and his wife found out what it was really like to be black in their own society of white supremacy.

Woods’s job was terminated, his children were almost killed. All he had left was his family and the book he planned to publish about the truth and he had to get them all out of the country.

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The latter part of the film is about his daring escape, manuscript in hand, disguised as a priest. It has every element of a suspense thriller, but it’s doubly exciting because it’s true.

Kevin Kline gives the finest performance of his career as Woods – a man dedicated to education and freedom. Denzel Washington is inspired as the black martyr.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the movie was banned in South Africa.

Donald Woods
Kevin Kline
Steve Biko
Denzel Washington
Wendy Woods
Penelope Wilton
Bruce
John Hargreaves
Acting High Commissioner
Alec McCowen
Ken
Kevin McNally
Father Kani
Zakes Mokae
State prosecutor
Ian Richardson
Dr Ramphele
Josette Simon
Kruger
John Thaw
Captain de Wet
Timothy West
Lemick
Miles Anderson
Tami
Tommy Buson
Peter Jones
Jim Findley
Don Card
Julian Glover
Jane Woods
Kate Hardie
Speaker
Alton Kumalo
Jason
Mawa Makondo
Moses
Joseph Marcell
Mapetla
John Matshikiza
Evalina
Sophie Mgcina
Tenjy
Wabei Siyolwe
Ntsiki Biko
Juanita Waterman

Director
Richard Attenborough