Monday, July 26, 2010
Based the true story of a black-skinned child of white Afrikaner parents in apartheid South Africa, Skin occupies compelling historical ground. In the 1950s Sandra Laing (Ella Ramangwane) was raised a happy ‘white’ child by her loving, shopkeeper parents Abraham (Sam Neill) and Sannie (Alice Krige), only to face virulent bigotry when packed off to boarding school aged ten. In order to secure their daughter’s future in a country with morality laws forbidding mixed-race cohabitation, Abraham shrewdly and tenaciously plays the politics as well as the PR to fight for his daughter’s white race categorisation. But as Sandra comes of age (Sophie Okonedo), she faces the divisive decision to embrace or deny the colour of her skin.
It is curious that a film so steeped in political history chooses to stay so resolutely with the Laing’s family story. Skin might open with an adult Sandra lining up to vote, but Anthony Fabian’s compassionate film ultimately eschews the contextual turmoil, choosing instead to raise Sandra’s story to an allegorical tale of race relations. A powerhouse performance from Neill carries the film until Okonedo – who is slightly too old to play a 17 year old – gives up her hangdog expression and embraces Sandra’s graceful anguish. That is a sight to see, and though the film sometimes strays into midday movie sentimentality (Abraham’s catchphrase ‘never give up’ is a little hackneyed), the film’s commitment to this remarkable, everywoman stays with you long after you return to today’s post-apartheid world.
Street Press Australia
Australian release date: 22 July 2010