CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY is set in Natal, South Africa in 1946. It
is a remake of the 1952 movie of the same name by Zoltan Korda. This
movie features James Earl Jones as an Anglican priest by the name of
Stephen Kumalo, and it is clearly the best performance of Jones's long
career of over eighty movies.
CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY starts with sweeping vistas of great
beauty filmed in luscious color thanks to the cinematography by Paul
Gilpin. Although I have never been to South Africa, the terrain
reminded me of the Scottish Highlands where I have visited. The beauty
of South Africa resonates perfectly with the richness of Jones's voice
in the narration. The sets (David Barkham) with the contrast of the
claustrophobia of the big city and the poverty of the ghettos are
The movie tells the story of a black priest, Father Kumalo, who is
forced to leave his poor country church and travel into the big city of
Johannesburg. He goes to find his sister Gertrude (Dembisa Kente), his
son Absolom (Eric Miyeni), and his brother John (Charles Dutton), but
he departs with great trepidation. He tells his wife Katie (Leleti
Kumalo), "This is a journey I have always feared. My people go there
never to return." When he gets there he is robbed and the place seems
to be as bad as he feared. There is a great scene of him lost in the
vastness of the big city.
When he finds his brother, he turns out to be a politician with
impressive oratorical skills who is too busy to be bothered with his
relatives from the country. Just as there is the clash between black
and white in South Africa, there is also the mutual misunderstanding
between the people living in the city and those in the country. The
movie spends more time than most movies dealing with spirituality in
general and the true meaning of Christianity in particular. It is
refreshing to see a movie where people of the cloth are taken seriously
for a change. One priest explains another's actions by saying, "He has
truth on his side" to which Father Kumalo answers, "How can he have
truth without God?"
The city is shown as a place of great sorrow. In one of the most
horrific scenes Father Kumalo learns that his son has killed the son of
the rich white landowner James Jarvis (Richard Harris). The movie is
about the search for Absolom and then his trial.
The marvelous script by Ronald Harwood and direction by Darrell
Roodt weave a tale of great power and sadness but do it in an
understated fashion that never manipulates the audience's emotions.
Nevertheless, there was many a tear shed in the theater I was at, and I
could hear frequent sobbing. Moreover, every single person stayed
until all of the credits finished and the house lights went up because
they were so mesmerized by the show. The ending is perfect, and I
Ah, the acting. Everyone in the movie was quite good, but Jones
was head and shoulders above everyone else. He cried in the show, he
was scared in the show, and yet he was brave. A more moving and
powerful performance I have not seen in a long time. If he does not
get an Academy Award nomination for it, they ought to disband the
Academy as hopeless lost.
The music by John Barry is extremely moving without ever being
overpowering. I love the costumes (Rui Filipe) especially the large
brimmed hats that the priests wear.
CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY runs a fast 1:49 thanks to crisp editing
(David Heitner). The movie is rated PG-13 for a little violence, but
there is no sex, nudity or bad language. I would have no trouble
taking kids 10 and over. This is a subtle but wonderful film that I
recommend to you strongly, and I give it *** 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes