Thursday, April 15, 2010


I suspect most people who have heard about Nelson Mandela know that the South African government held secret talks with him while he was still in jail. What I didn't know was that the ANC wasn't aware of what was being talked about and were suspicious that he would be pressured into some deal behind their backs (as they saw it). I also didn't know that Consolidated Goldfields (since bought by Hanson plc) were worried about their South African mines and started a parallel series of secret talks in the UK between the ANC and white South Africans with indirect links to the government. These talks were organised by Michael Young and are the subject of Endgame.

The film is structured around a slow moving build up to the talks; following Michael Young as he tries to find white people willing to talk and is dogged by less than subtle secret agents. The camera work here is jumpy in an unsubtle and (to my mind) unsuccessful attempt to create tension. Mid-section of the film follows the two sets of talks. One in a posh English country house and the other in a South African jail. This is less about the substance of the talks than the roles of Thabo Mbeki (as a sophisticated and unyielding negotiator for the ANC), Professor Willie Esterhuyse (under orders to negotiate nothing and act as a reluctant spy) and Dr Neil Barnard (head of the Nation Intelligence Service as spider in the middle). This is the most successful part of the film, capturing the ambiguities of the government trying to both destroy the ANC and talk to it and similarly the ANC trying to figure out if the government is serious about peace talks or if it is a divide and conquer strategy. The final act begins with P.W. Botha's stroke and things happen so quickly I found it slightly unsatisfactory. Almost like F.W. de Klerk comes to power and then a miracle occurs.

People sitting around a table talking is not a good subject for a film, but Endgame succeeds in bringing out the irony of negotiations between a powerful government and the representatives of the people it is subjugating. The government wants concessions from the ANC but any concessions by the ANC would lead to it agreeing to some special deal for whites.

Watch trailer here.

Ian's rating 3/5 Anne's rating 3/5

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