The Man Who Drove With Mandela

The Man Who Drove With Mandela

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In 1962, a man known as “The Black Pimpernel” travelled incognito across South Africa organizing armed rebellion against the apartheid regime. Wanted by police for seditious activity, his cover was that he was the chauffeur to a well-dressed and elegant white man in a gleaming Austin Westminster. The black man was Nelson Mandela. The white man was Cecil Williams. We all know what happened to Mandela following his arrest. But what happened to the man he was with? “The Man Who Drove With Mandela” tells the story of South Africa’s liberation struggle from a new and unexpected perspective: that of Cecil Williams -- prominent theatre director; committed freedom-fighter; gay man. The film begins with the image of Mandela driving Williams through the South African countryside. Williams’ story is built through a pastiche of documentary and fiction styles – powerful interviews with his friends and comrades (including President Mandela); rare and beautiful home-movies of gay life and the freedom-struggle in 1950s, juxtaposed with more-public images from newsreels and apartheid propaganda films; lyrical fictional inserts of key moments in Williams’ story. A series of internal monologues, based on Williams’ own writings, and performed by the acclaimed actor, Corin Redgrave. Williams died in exile, in London, in 1978. At various times, he entertained both Nelson Mandela and Sir Lawrence Olivier in his 16th Floor apartment at the top of the Ansteys Building, one of Johannesburg’s most desirable addresses. Being a theatre director meant that he was very much in the public eye. But being both a gay man and a freedom-fighter in the oppressive South Africa of the 1950s required switching between not one, but two, illegal identities; shuttling between two underground subcultures – the hidden world of homosexuals, and the secret world of anti-apartheid communists. Williams was frequently arrested, detained and banned even as he developed a reputation as one of the country’s best theatre producers. “I was always more worried,” he says in one of the monologues in the film, “that Priscilla [gay South African slang for police] would catch me, not in some communist activity, but on the homosexual thing...” Now Cecil Williams’ ‘chauffeur’ is president of a democratic South Africa; the very first country in the world to protect homosexuals explicitly from discrimination in its constitution. Could Cecil Williams have had anything to do with it?
Starring Corin Redgrave
Director Greta Schiller