EmptyAdd "Endgame" to the growing list of movies attempting to explain South Africa's vile apartheid system and its eventual demise.
This striking film is a gripping account of secret talks in the secluded English countryside that laid much of the groundwork for negotiations that brought an end to racial warfare. Screenwriter Paula Milne meticulously selects the vital personalities and scenes to recount this episode, and director Pete Travis stages the film as a political thriller, underscoring the dangers to those involved — no exaggeration there — and a vivid sense of time running out before blood runs everywhere.
The result resembles an old-fashioned Costa-Gavras film, without the leftist sentimentality. "Endgame" is a sure bet for political and historical junkies, but that might not be enough for theatrical exposure beyond festivals. Television is the best home for this movie produced by, among other entities, Britain's Channel 4.
Furtive talks between the jailed Nelson Mandela (Clarke Peters) and President P.W. Botha's wily head of intelligence Niel Barnard (Mark Strong) are well known. But other than readers of Robert Harvey's book "The Fall of Apartheid," on which the film is based, few know about the dozen talks in an English manor that paralleled the Mandela discussions over a period of several years.
The movie begins with a seemingly minor player, English businessman Michael Young (Jonny Lee Miller), who works for a British mining company complicit with the hated Afrikaner regime. But the company's head (Derek Jacobi) sees what anyone with intelligence knows: Apartheid is doomed. All that's left is the endgame. The company means to secure its future by hosting secret talks.
The film then focuses on two figures: Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the African National Congress leader who will become South Africa's president, and professor Willie Esterhuyse (William Hurt), a philosophy lecturer and an Afrikaner. Botha learns of these talks and uses them and the Mandela talks to divide and conquer his opponents. Barnard even tells Esterhuyse he is to act as the regime's spy.
Gradually, a shaky trust is established between the two men. The first breakthrough comes when Esterhuyse tells Mbeki of Barnard's demand.
Thriller elements then take hold. Young is smuggled to a black township to hear of Afrikaner atrocities. Secret police are everywhere — lurking in cars, following everyone, tapping phones. Death threats fill answering machines. A car bomb seriously injures an ANC lawyer. A devastating ANC bomb nearly scuttles the talks. Armed men in a truck chase Mbeki's car, a threat from his own side not to negotiate with the enemy.
"Endgame" is not so much a history lesson — the filmmakers say it is a fictional piece inspired by Harvey's book — as a thrilling primer on how to end conflicts of blood hatred. The film claims that the Irish Republican Army consulted with the ANC before negotiating with the British.
"Endgame" really needs to screen in the Middle East.