World Apart, A (1988): Terrific Tale of Coming of Age during Apartheid

Cinematographer Chris Menges’ impressive directorial debut, A World Apart, was inspired by the real lives of South African journalist Ruth First and her daughter Shawn Slovo, who wrote the film’s screenplay.

Barbara Hershey plays the fictional counterpart to Ms. First, Diana Roth, with Jodhi May as her daughter.

Told from the daughter’s subjective viewpoint, the film shows us that Diana and her husband (Jeroen Krabbe) are so busy with their anti-Apartheid political activism that they totally shut May out of their lives.

In 1963, Diana is arrested by the South African police, becoming the first white woman to be held under the infamous 90-day-detention act. Left despondent and suicidal by two separate arrests and by constant harassment from the police, Diana still won’t include her daughter in her life until the girl presses the issue in a climactic confrontation.

Hershey gives a riveting performance of a touch role, playing a mother who favors public affairs over her own domestic life, sacrificing in the process the love of her family members.

A World Apart is also effective as an uncompromising tale of coming of age under the most trying circumstances.

Menges, the brilliant Oscar-caliber lenser of such films as “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission,” proves to be a most self-assured first time director. I am eager to see his next directorial effort.

End Note:

The real Ruth First was killed under suspicious circumstances in 1982, without ever reconciling with her daughter.



Running time: 114 minutes.

Directed By: Chris Menges

Released:  June 17, 1988 Wide

DVD:  August 23, 2005