Channel 4‘s drama of that name, shown on Monday, was about the secret talks which led to negotiations between the African National Congress and South African government of the early 1990s, which in turn led to a democratic, non-racial election in 1994 and Nelson Mandela‘s rise to power.
That amounts to a lot of talking and the joy of this drama was in seeing how writer Paula Milne and director Pete Travis brought a tedious process to life. Naturally, we started with the sweepingly beautiful landscapes of South Africa itself. And there was Johnny Lee Miller (always a joy) travelling the dusty bush to find someone, anyone in a position of political influence to talk to the then banned ANC.
Miller played George Young as a buttoned up Englishman so perfectly that he spoke as if he’d a pole rammed up his arse. Until you remember Miller is struggling to contain the Scottish accent that brought him fame in Trainspotters. Elsewhere there were convincing performances from William Hurt as the Afrikaaner who reluctantly agreed to represent the white establishment in the secret talks and from Chiwetal Ejiofor as the likeable Thabo Mbeki and Clarke Peters (The Wire) as Mandela. The film had the feel of a taught thriller, with allegiances unfolding in a way that is rarely possible with historical drama.
Then, with the credits, came the pay-off that ensures this sort of retrospective drama passes the “so what?” test. The revelation that the ANC’s tactics during the talks which ultimately ended apartheid have since been shared with the IRA and Hamas. So a very specific set of political circumstances become almost universal. Good on C4 for putting money into this stuff.