Endgame (2009) ***1/2
written by: Paula Milne
produced by: Hal Vogel
Directed by: Pete Travis
Rated PG-13 (for violence/disturbing images and some strong language) /109 min.
premiered at Sundance on: January 19, 2009
premiered on PBS in the U.S. on: October 25, 2009
available on DVD: February 9, 2010
Here’s a film that should be required viewing for any government considering peace talks. This is how it should be done and it’s amazing that it all started by an unassuming businessman who merely wanted to act as a facilitator. “Endgame” is a film focusing on the meetings that resulted in the fall of apartheid in South Africa, which opened the new season of the Masterpiece Contemporary series on PBS in the States. Back in the 80’s, anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned and South Africa was dealing with the same issues the country still struggles with: poverty, disease and corruption.
The main difference is that apartheid was still in effect, and the conservative government under president, P. W. Botha (Timothy West) squashed protests and riots in townships under the guise of emergency rule. Militants were tortured and killed by security forces as terrorist bombs destroyed shopping malls. On the brink of civil war, something had to be done to end the madness which is exactly what this political thriller studies.
This captivating story shows how Michael Young (Jonny Lee Miller), director of communications for Consolidated Gold (a company that benefited from apartheid for decades) pushed his boss (Derek Jacobi) to support and finance secret talks in England between representatives of white and black South Africa. The film prominently focuses on the presence of African National Congress (ANC) director, Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and influential professor of philosophy, Afrikaner Will Esterhuyse (William Hurt), both compelled to step in and open discussion in order to end further bloodshed. The talks spanning several years took place in Mells Park (owned by Consolidated Goldfields), a country house near Frome in Somerset, England and were significant in that the Broederbond, chief architects of the apartheid were present. Much of the outcome of their talks were dependent on the words and actions of Mandela (a dignified Clarke Peters) who still had a strong influence despite being behind bars. The entire story becomes an intriguing examination that has much to say about how negotiations can actually work and really do more effectively solve conflict.
The cast showcases some of the best character actors working today. Hurt and Eliofor both master their respective accents and each exude a soulful expressiveness that provides a needed connection to the viewer. Mark Strong (Body of Lies) has been one to watch for some time now, here he plays chief of security, Niel Barnard, assigned to liaison both Esterhuyse and Mandela. John Kani (A Dry White Season) plays Oliver Tambo, the then head of the ANC, who receives smuggled notes from Mandela as well as information on the meetings from Mbeki. Both men comes across as determined, dangerous and loyal and provide a tense layer to the already emotional plot.
Director Pete Travis (Vantage Point) does well to focus on the two leads since there have already been many stories on Mandela. A sobering revelation is displayed, as these two former adversaries face personal threats from their own respective sides indicating that many still prefer war amid the possibility of peace. Writer Paula Milne gleans and trims her script from Robert Harvey’s book “The Fall of Apartheid,” which was basically the minutes from these meetings. Choosing rather to hone in on the ordinary people working on the sidelines without disregarding key historic events. The film doesn’t really cover what was specifically discussed at these meetings but that could’ve possibly taken away from the drama of it all. In the end, the talks worked which provided the freedom of Mandela and eventually apartheid was abandone. Like a cross between “Frost/Nixon” and “The Constant Gardener”, the film gives a moving and compelling look at the talking heads involved in reigning political chaos.