The story of Steve Biko, a South African black campaigner for equal rights who was brutally murdered by police. After his death his story and his campaign was taken up by an ex-head-in-the-sand white newspaper journalist and friend of Biko's, Donald Woods (Kline).
This recreation of the brutal, tragically premature death of a young man marked out to be one of black South Africa's great leaders, and the conversion of a woolly white liberal to an active anti-Apartheid crusader, is a worthy piece of drama.
Powerful in its political message, Cry Freedom is also a thoroughly gripping piece of cinema, offering two stunning central performances from Washington and Kline. John Briley's screenplay pays full due to Biko's sense of humour as well as putting across his radical black consciousness message, and the dialogue is sharp, tender and ironic, clarifying the background to events and illuminating the unusual relationship which developed between two men of totally different backgrounds and philosophies.
Attenborough has captured the climate of events during a particularly fraught period in South Africa with remarkable authenticity. Of all the films about that country made elsewhere (this one in Kenya and Zimbabwe), Cry Freedom is so far the most successful in evoking the look and the atmosphere of the real thing.
If the last third of the film, dealing with the escape of the Woods family, is a little soft-centred and drawn outmore of a traditional escape adventure than hard-hitting realitythe movie is packed with enough scenes of dramatic interest, power and emotion to more than compensate.
Only stony hearts won't be moved by Attenborough's vivid, if occasionally sentimental, evocation of a great well of human potential cruelly snubbed out.