|The Power of One|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John G. Avildsen|
|Produced by||Arnon Milchan|
|Screenplay by||Robert Mark Kamen|
|Based on||The Power of One|
by Bryce Courtenay
|Music by||Hans Zimmer|
|Edited by||John G. Avildsen|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
Roadshow Entertainment (Australia & New Zealand)
|Country||France, Germany, Australia, United States|
|Box office||$2.8 million|
The Power of One is a 1992 drama film loosely based on Bryce Courtenay's 1989 novel of the same name. Set in South Africa during World War II, the film centers on the life of Peter Philip Kenneth-Keith, an English South African boy raised under apartheid, and his conflicted relationships with a German pianist, a Coloured boxing coach and an Afrikaner romantic interest. Directed and edited by John G. Avildsen, the film stars Stephen Dorff, John Gielgud, Morgan Freeman, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Daniel Craig in his feature film debut.
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Born in 1930 to a recently widowed English woman on a homestead in rural Natal, little Peter Keith (Peekay) is schooled in the ways of England by his mother and the ways of Africa by a Zulu nanny, whose son Tonderai is also his best friend. PK's father has recently died after an incident with a bull elephant. It is revealed that PK's mother is struggling on the family farm and their easy life is forever shattered when the farm's cattle are claimed by rinderpest. PK's mother succumbs to a nervous breakdown and he is sent away to a conservative Afrikaans boarding school while she recovers.
Being the only English student at the boarding school, PK soon earns near universal contempt from his scathing Afrikaner fellows--particularly an older student, Jaapie Botha. Botha's abuse and his inferiority complex strike PK with a severe case of nocturnal enuresis, a habit which he eventually overcomes with local sangoma Dabula Manzi. In conquering his nightmares, PK is given a chicken (Mother Courage), who becomes his closest companion and also his defender. His chicken frequently frightens off the other schoolboys and consequently PK's bed-wetting stops. In 1939 it is announced that Germany has started a world war and the school rejoices. PK is dragged from his bed and paraded in front of a mock court with Botha presiding. Botha sentences Mother Courage to death and executes the chicken with a sling shot. PK retaliates by pushing the older boy and Botha falls and is impaled by a German flag in his buttocks. Angered, he commands for PK to be hung by his leg so he too can be executed like Mother Courage. Botha is caught in the act by the principal who smacks Botha angrily; Botha is later expelled for the assault.
PK learns that his mother has died and finds himself living with his grandfather in Barberton. PK's grandfather admits he does not know how to raise a child and organizes for his friend Karl "Doc" von Vollensteen, a lonely German musician who lost his family in Europe, to oversee PK's education. Doc warms to PK and under his guidance the latter soon becomes an excellent pianist. As Doc has not notified the local government of his German lineage, he is interned in a work camp. The camp guards are sympathetic to Doc and allow PK to visit regularly.
PK shows Doc his report card from school and indicates that his grades are falling because he is being beaten up by the older boys. Doc introduces the boy to Geel Piet, a Cape Coloured inmate who takes von Vollensteen's place as PK's mentor, training him to be an excellent boxer. Piet also impresses on PK his mantra: "first with the head, then with the heart", a phrase that will see the young man through even greater hard times ahead.
A maturing PK begins to express sympathy toward black prisoners, who are detained under appalling conditions. He works with Doc to distribute contraband among the Africans, writing their letters home, and sharing their many sufferings. As the war comes to a close, Doc announces he will return to Germany, however before he leaves the warden asks Doc to perform for the state's governor. Piet pushes Doc to agree and all three agree to organise a concert with the prisoners singing. PK unites the tribes for the event, learning that Piet has told the prisoners that PK is part of an ancient African myth called the rainmaker (a mythical figure that calms things down and brings peace). On the night of the concert, Piet is delayed getting ready when Sergeant Bormann accosts him suspecting that the concert is an elaborate ruse. Piet bravely stands his ground and tells the Sergeant exactly what the lyrics to the music mean; Bormann, enraged, beats Geel Piet to death. PK finds Piet on the brink of death and comforts him.
The story jumps to a teenage PK who is studying at the prestigious Prince of Wales School in Johannesburg. While attending a boxing championship, he catches the eye of Maria Marais, daughter of a leading National Party official. Since her strict father will not permit them to see one another openly, they begin dating in secret. On one such outing they are introduced to Gideon Duma, a prominent boxer in Alexandra, a notorious black township. Duma approaches PK for a boxing match; he has a passion for resisting apartheid alongside his lady friend Miriam Sisulu and wants to end the myth of PK being the rainmaker. PK agrees to fight Duma and in the ensuing fight he defeats Duma and they become friends. Duma convinces PK to join him in standing up to apartheid. Maria, Duma, Miriam, and PK organize for a school to teach locals.
PK approaches Maria's father to ask his permission to date his daughter. Maria's father cannot countenance an Englishman dating his Afrikaans daughter and forbids the couple from dating. He suspects Maria is seeing PK and through his South African Police contact, Colonel Breyten, he organizes for PK to be followed and monitored. Breyten assigns a now adult Jappie Botha to spy on the young couple. Botha uncovers PK's work with the school as well as his ties to a multiracial gym. The gym is raided and burned to the ground and PK's secret school is also attacked. In the attack, Maria's skull is fractured by a police officer and she dies.
Maria's father goes berserk at her funeral and jumps PK with the intent of injuring or killing him. The clergyman (played by an actual clergyman) and others pull Marais off, and everyone stops in wonder as a crowd of people, mostly Black, sing Senzeni Na? as they approach her grave to honor her.
Shortly after the funeral, PK and his school friend learn that, through the efforts of their headmaster, they have been granted university places at Oxford University. Broken by grief over Maria's death, PK considers fleeing to England; but is consoled by his former boxing partner, Duma, who shows him that all he has done to improve things has been working at last and reminds him of all the good he can still do in Africa. Col. Breteyn leads a violent raid on Alexandra the following night to kill PK once and for all, feeling if they can kill him they will silence all rebellion permanently. Breteyn personally goes into to slaughter everyone in the way which results in his own death at a spear from behind by an enraged villager. Botha, a member of the raiding party, threatens to shoot Elias Mlungisi, the local boxing promoter, only to be confronted by PK. They spar; PK easily bests his childhood enemy. A vindictive Botha draws a pistol from hiding, intending to shoot PK dead. But Duma, looking for PK, fractures Botha's skull with a cricket bat just in time, killing him instantly. Now wanted fugitives from the apartheid government; PK, Miriam, and Duma as well as all their friends vow to continue a campaign against racial injustice.
PK's closing narration identifies meaningful voices during his life; from mother and nanny, to Doc and Dabula Manzi, Geel Piet and, finally, Maria Marais, and the film closes with the message onscreen that people who act together with "the power of one" can achieve far more than if they all act separately.
The film received mixed reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes currently ranks the film at a 39% 'rotten' rating based on 18 reviews, with an average score of 4.96/10.Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it two and a half stars out of four, stating that the nature of troubles of South Africa "are too complex to be reduced to a formula in which everything depends on who shoots who", but did add "there are some nice touches," such as the locations and Gielgud's performance.
Morgan Freeman later said in an interview that the film "wasn't as good as I had hoped it would be."