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'Cry, the Beloved Country'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 22, 1995


Darrell James Roodt
James Earl Jones;
Richard Harris;
Dambisa Kente;
Charles S. Dutton;
Eric Miyeni;
Vusi Kunene
profanity and a scene in a derelict whorehouse

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Alan Paton's haunting novel is brought rather splendidly to life in this moving production. James Earl Jones (whose boomy voice transcends any accent) is sturdy and affecting in the main role of Stephen Kumalo, a black South African pastor in the 1940s who treks across his enormous country to salvage his shattered family.

Kumalo, who lives in a mountainous region to the south, gets word from a fellow priest that his sister (Dambisa Kente) is in trouble. Kumalo undertakes the long journey north to Johannesburg, hoping also to find his estranged son, Absalom.

Arriving in the bustling city, Kumalo learns that his sister has become a prostitute. While pressing his sister to change her ways, he also solicits information about the elusive Absalom from his politician-brother John (Charles S. Dutton).

Kumalo uncovers a chain of increasingly dismaying revelations about his son, and his fate becomes tragically linked with white Afrikaner James Jarvis (Richard Harris).

When all is said and done, it takes a huge act of compassion and forgiveness to bring Kumalo and Jarvis together and, by implication, the country.

Directed by Darrell James Roodt and adapted by Ronald ("The Dresser") Harwood, the movie rolls along with a slow, almost majestic pace, as Kumalo trudges the spiritual testing ground of his life. "Cry, the Beloved Country" is also rich with novelistic atmosphere: The smallest acts and utterances are laden with allegorical significance. And when Kumalo tells his brother, "This is a bitter journey," you can feel the weight of this world on your shoulders.

Rated PG-13. Contains profanity and a scene in a derelict whorehouse.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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