Cry, the Beloved Country (1951)

Cry, the Beloved Country (1951)

“It was my son that killed your son.”

In Apartheid-ridden South Africa, a rural black minister (Canada Lee) journeys to Johannesburg and receives help from a fellow minister (Sidney Poitier) in seeking out his sick sister Gertrude (Ribbon Dhlamini), his successful brother John (Edric Connor), and his long-lost son Absalom (Lionel Ngakane), who has impregnated a teenager (Vivien Clinton) and commits a crime that deeply impacts the lives of a white farmer (Charles Carson) and his wife (Joyce Carey).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • Father and Child
  • Priests and Ministers
  • Racism and Race Relations
  • Sidney Poitier Films
  • Zoltan Korda Films

Director Zoltan Korda’s next-to-last film was this bold (for its time) adaptation of Alan Paton’s 1948 novel of the same name. The storyline begins by following a man (Lee) encountering close family members again for the first time in years, learning about the paths their lives have taken, and reconciling their choices with his own faith and beliefs:

Along the way, we’re shown some of the realities of Apartheid-era South Africa, with pervasive poverty and challenging dilemmas all around:

The crime at the center of the film is appropriately shocking, and leads us swiftly towards its second half, as the impact of systemic racism and crime on citizens from all walks of life is explored:

There are no easy answers, but thankfully, we see shifts-for-the-better occurring as a result of tragedy, with Carson coming to understand the power of the work his activist-son (Henry Blumenthal) had been engaging in before his death.

The fact that Lee and Poitier — in just his second film role after No Way Out (1950) — had to be smuggled into South Africa as “indentured laborers”, and endured bitterly harsh restrictions while there, speaks directly to the challenges inherent in making this film, which remains worth a look given its unprecedented exploration of issues otherwise untouched in mainstream cinema of the time.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Canada Lee as the Reverend Stephen Kumalo
  • Charles Carson as James Jarvis
  • A powerful glimpse of Apartheid-era South Africa

Must See?
Yes, for its historical value and as a quietly powerful film.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Cry, the Beloved Country (1951)

  1. First viewing. Agreed; must-see, for its historical value.

    The opening narration seems a bit unnecessary (but then, I am usually bothered by narration in film unless it feels specifically needed) and the film takes a little time in gaining momentum… but soon enough it does.

    As noted, the film’s message is “quietly powerful” and attention should be paid.

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