Alan Paton’s 1948 novel Cry, the Beloved Country is one of those works that, sadly, will always feel relevant. Set in the prelude to apartheid in South Africa, it follows a black village priest and a white farmer who must deal with news of a murder. Over 70 years on, the story – and indeed this 1951 adaptation – remains an unflinching portrait of racism and injustice.
With strong biblical parallels, the film is at its core a story of faith and the unity that comes with it. But this is far from an uplifting or inspiring tale; this is a sad, sobering drama that is surprisingly dark for a film of 1951. Described by one user on Letterboxd as “powerful, painful, misery porn that is impossible to look away from”, the film is a very difficult watch.
It’s a miracle that the film was even made, and its production is just as fascinating – and upsetting – as the film itself. While interiors were shot in Shepperton Studios, Cry, the Beloved Country was the first major film to be shot on location in South Africa. As the country was then under apartheid, director Zoltán Korda had to inform local authorities that his stars Sidney Poitier and Canada Lee were actually indentured servants to get them through immigration security. It truly is something that this film, a protest and condemnation of apartheid, was made under such danger and duplicity. But the film tells an important story, and it was a story that needed to be told. It is fantastic that this re-release means it will reach new audiences now, and continue to shine a light on a harrowing period in history.
Released on digital, DVD, and Blu-ray as part of StudioCanal’s celebrated Vintage Classics range, the film’s new 4K restoration is a revelation. The film looks mesmerising throughout, with Robert Krasker’s stunning black & white cinematography looking consistently deep and rich. Special features and an included booklet offer valuable insight into the film’s context and production.
Cry, the Beloved Country is an essential film that should be shown in schools. It has lost none of its power since its release, and sadly, none of its relevance. A sobering tale, powerfully acted and wonderfully directed.
ICYM: Check out our unboxing of the new Blu-ray release.