Former prison guard James Gregory penned the book Goodbye Bafana, charting his relationship with Nelson Mandela over the course of more than two decades. Since its publication, he's been accused of embellishing the facts and overstating his friendship with the eminent South African leader. That may explain why this big screen version of the story feels so curiously lopsided. Much of it rests on Joseph Fiennes, who is credible as a racist in reform, but never truly captivating.
In the role of Mandela, Dennis Haysbert has an overwhelming task. Although he has no problem conveying the dignity with which Mandela carries himself, the sketchy script offers him no way of getting under his skin. Instead Mandela is reduced to a background prop as Gregory launches a quest to educate himself on the principles of egalitarianism after years of being drip-fed Apartheid propaganda. It's a covert undertaking that brings him into direct confrontation with high-ranking officials and sees his family ostracised.
"MAKES JOHN AND YOKO'S BED-IN LOOK LIVELY"
Life does get uncomfortable for Gregory but there are few moments of palpable danger. He doesn't make any bold gestures to demonstrate his newfound humanitarian ideals except daring to read material censored under the Apartheid regime. Most of the screen time is devoted to his marital problems and with small pay-off since whiny wife Gloria (Diane Kruger) engenders little sympathy. While he grapples with being a cog in the machine (and does nothing about it), she's chiefly concerned with how big a house the government can provide them with. It's a portrait of political activism that makes John and Yoko's bed-in look lively.
Goodbye Bafana is released in UK cinemas on Friday 11th May 2007.