Goodbye Bafana (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner09/05/2007

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 130 mins

Engaging, beautifully shot drama with impressive performances from Joseph Fiennes and Dennis Haysbert.

What's it all about?
Based on a true story, Goodbye Bafana stars Joseph Fiennes as James Gregory, an Afrikaans prison guard whose fluency in Xhosa makes him the perfect choice for the job of censorship officer on Robben Island prison, where Nelson Mandela (Dennis Haysbert) is being held. The film begins in 1968 and details the growing friendship between the two men over the next two decades, as Gregory gains an understanding of Mandela through reading his letters and through their daily interaction.

The Good
This is Fiennes' best role since Shakespeare In Love and he delivers an impressive performance, nailing the South African accent and believably conveying Gregory's gradual conversion to Mandela's anti-Apartheid cause. Haysbert is equally superb, his towering physical presence providing an intriguing counterpoint to his calmly measured speech – it's a performance that radiates both compassion and intelligence.

In addition, there's strong support from Diane Kruger, who delivers her best performance to date as Gregory's ambitious wife, Gloria, who undergoes a subtle transformation of her own.

The Great
Director Bille August maintains our interest throughout, despite the frequent changes of time period. There are several memorable scenes (the island community of the wives of the men working at the prison is particularly well realised) and the sun drenched, dusty photography brilliantly evokes the sense of time and place, contrasting sharply with our preconceived images of Mandela's captivity. It's a common criticism of films about South Africa that they are always told through the eyes of a white man (think Cry Freedom, A Dry White Season, etc). However, in this case, the perspective is justified, since the film is based on Gregory's own book and the story is as much about his own enlightenment as it is about Mandela.

Worth seeing?
Goodbye Bafana is an engaging, inspirational and ultimately uplifting drama with superb performances from its two leads. Recommended.

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Content updated: 13/12/2017 20:34

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