Sunday, September 12, 2004

The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)

A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 1998

Apartheid in South Africa, one of the more shameful episodes in the last half of this century, seemed to be mostly ignored by Hollywood until late 1980s. Before that time, American mainstream producers didn't dare to tackle the subject of the country that was nominally capitalist democracy and Western ally, yet with the regime that made Communism look good. Instead of them, that task was carried out by movie authors in Commonwealth countries, less troubled with cheap Cold War politics. One of such projects is 1975 British production THE WILBY CONSPIRACY, directed by Ralph Nelson and based on Peter Driscoll's novel.

The movie begins in Cape Town courtroom, where Rina van Niekirk (Prunella Gee), liberal white lawyer, tries to win freedom for her client Shack Twala (Sydney Poitier), black anti-apartheid activist who spent ten years in prison. To her own big surprise, the government decides to let Twala go, but only hours after the release he gets again in trouble with police, this time together with Rina's boyfriend Jim Keogh (Michael Caine), British engineer. Two men become fugitives and are forced to drive to Johannesburg, where Twala seeks help by Doctor Mukharjee (Saeed Jaffrey), Hindu dentist and fellow member of Black Congress. In the mean time, sadistical Major Horn (Nicol Williamson) from the secret police is on their trail.

Like many thrillers from the 1970s, THE WILBY CONSPIRACY has a rather complicated plot and some of today's viewers might even get lost in a quagmire of political intrigue and endless double-crossings between the movie's protagonists. But, Ralph Nelson wraps it up as a solid piece of entertainment, using political reality of contemporary South Africa mostly as a background for conventional action thriller. So, we have a lots of humour, fistfights, car chases and even one totally gratuitous sex scene. Some might argue that the subject of racial inequality and totalitarian oppression would be inappropriate for the use in a such mainstream product. Anyway, the actors did a really good job - Michael Caine brings a lot of charm to his role, unlike Sidney Poitier, whose almost solemn presence gives a rather nice contrast to Caine and establishes "buddy buddy" chemistry between the two. Other performances seems bland, except for Nicol Williamson as very convincing and intelligent villain. The end of the movie is perhaps slightly disappointing, but nevertheless THE WHILBY CONSPIRACY as a whole is worth watching, especially compared with today's "politically correct" movies.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

Review written on October 1st 1998


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