Cry, The Beloved Country (1951) Review

Freshly released via the ever-impressive Vintage Classics from StudioCanal, Zoltan Korda’s powerful adaptation of Alan Paton’s Cry, The Beloved Country, is primed to be rediscovered for a new generation.

Stephen Kumalo (Canada Lee) is a minister in South Africa who is forced to travel to the city in search of his missing son,  Absalom. Aided by a young local Reverand (Sidney Poitier), he is shocked to discover his son, now a criminal, living a sinful life far from the moralistic one of Kumalo. However, this revelation is just the first of many haunting truths Kumalo learns about his family and the land he calls home against the brutal realities of apartheid.

Filmed partially in South Africa in 1951, when racial segregation was only a few years old, the producers had to lie to the South African immigration authorities and pretend that its stars, Canada Lee and Sidney Poitier, were director Zoltan Korda’s indentured servants as it wouldn’t have been possible (under South Africa’s apartheid) for black and white people to associate with each other at the time. I truly hope that someday, a movie is made about the making of Cry, The Beloved Country, as it is a story that deserves to be told.

In what would be the final leading role of his career, Canada Lee is impeccable as the weary minister, vividly portraying the idealistic Kumalo, who has his world shaken when he is confronted with the stark truths of the world he lives in, the choices people make, and his faith. It’s a delicate and haunting performance from Lee, and he’s suitably aided by an assured turn from a very young Poitier in what was his fourth film role.

The exceptional restoration also allows audiences, for the first time, to fully appreciate the cinematography of Robert Krasker (El Cid, Brief Encounter, The Third Man), who captures the beauty and grimness of the landscape perfectly. The final act feels almost Shakespearian in its levels of tragedy, and it’s an ending that will stay with you. We often think of old movies as of their time and serve little relevance to our modern world and society. However, that’s sadly not true; many of the themes of this film are all too familiar today. As earnest as it is bold and as heartbreaking as it is uncompromising, Zoltan Korda’s film still packs a relevant and mighty punch more than 70 years after its release.

Cry, The Beloved Country is out now on DVD & Blu-ray


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