Reviewed by: Ronald C. Coddington
This movie, produced by Miramax and available in video format, is based on Alan Paton’s famous novel of the same name. The book recounts the persecution and poverty of native blacks in post World War II South Africa. The movie is descoped somewhat to capture the change of heart of a father, a Dutch farmer named Jarvis (Richard Harris), who loses his son, Arthur, in a tragic killing by a native boy, Absalom Kumalo, son of a pastor, Stephen Kumalo (played powerfully by James Earl Jones). The story also effectively reveals the care of Pastor Kumalo for his family in his agonizing efforts to redeem the lost from the ravages of sin.
The story opens with the aging Pastor Kumalo leaving his native home in impoverished Ndotsheni to travel to Johannesburg to find his son, Absalom, and his sister, Gertrude, both of whom have not written in many months. Befriended by a mission Pastor, named Msimangu, Kumalo begins the search, and finds his sister in prostitution and his son imprisoned for murder. Jarvis’s son, now dead, proves to have been a great friend of the blacks, and Jarvis must come to Johannesburg to identify the body. It follows, in the tale, that he is confronted with his own disregard for the black natives as his path and that of Pastor Kumalo inexorably cross before, during and after the trial of Absalom.
Of particular interest is the courtroom scenes which display the heart of a judge who must make a ruling according to fixed elements of law combined with imperfect knowledge of the facts. The storyline has twists and turns that cannot be described here but which lend tremendous credibility to the portrayal of the characters.
The movie also brings out the warmth and redemptive power of committed friendship in the relationship between Pastors Kumalo and Msimangu. It recounts the challenging struggle experienced by Jarvis as he sees all that his son has done for the native population mirrored against his own disregard for these impoverished people.
A strong theme of the power of family love and faithfulness courses through this movie. Although not nearly so cleverly crafted as the novel, the movie still manages to shine as an example of what fine qualities of Christian character Hollywood can portray when it is so inclined.
Editor’s note: “Alan Paton’s Beloved Country” is a video documentary that tells the life story of Alan Paton, famous author of the novel “Cry the Beloved Country.”
Only two scenes might leave a bad impression. The one portrayal of the pastors entering a brothel to remove Gertrude is raw but not in bad taste and there may be some foul language in that scene which I felt was difficult to hear with clarity. There is no nudity. There is also an execution scene which is very brief and not graphic but highly indicative of the serious consequences of crime.
I recommend this movie for adults and teens. It carries a strong Christian message regarding the love of the father for his children and makes powerful statements against racial discrimination, against worldliness and its consequences and against sexual sin. This video could easily be used to provoke family discussion of all these issues that we face in our society today.