"Mandela and de Klerk" is a 1997 made-for-TV docudrama that a history buff shouldn't miss. I didn't even know of this until this month (Could this have been so under the radar or was my rock difficult to climb out of?). The film chronicles the efforts of then South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk to release anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela from prison and pave the way for a new constitution and abolishment of apartheid. This is, of course, an extremely simplified synopsis of the film. The film itself is quite complex, primarily because the central characters - Mandela and de Klerk - are complex individuals, as one would expect of history makers. Their relationship was cagey at best, and both men seem larger than life, skillfully bartering with the powers they held and keeping at bay the forces that would have easily exploded into civil war. Add to this the magic that is Poitier and Caine, and I assure you, this will be one of the best hour-and-a-half you'll spend.
The negotiations between the two central characters dominate the film. To fully appreciate these exchanges, I found it helpful to brush up on some basics (e.g., the African National Congress and its raison d'etre, Die Groot Krokodil or P.W. Botha, the staunch defender of apartheid, etc.). Even without these preparations, the film is so expertly plotted and scripted that the viewer walks away having learned a great deal of Pres. Mandela's intelligence and struggles, and appreciating the equally intelligent and progressive Afrikaner, de Klerk. As god-like as they would seem, I admired the filmmaker's refusal to deify both men. They are depicted as the very real people that they are, faults and all. They resent each other, they attack each other, they abhor each other, and they make grand history together. What a film!