'Terrorist Nelson Mandela' portrayal in film by Peter Kosminsky


Peter Kosminsky, who made the controversial Israel-Palestine drama The Promise, is to make a film about Nelson Mandela's early life in South Africa, Vanessa Thorpe reported in the Observer, Sunday 8 May 2011.

Peter Kosminsky, the British writer and director who made The Promise, a controversial Channel 4 drama serial about the history of Israel, is to risk fresh criticism with a feature film about Nelson Mandela's early life as a leader of the ANC's terrorist arm in South Africa.

The writer said that he would not shrink from depicting a violent part of Mandela's past that is often avoided in deference to the statesmanship of his later life. "The story I am trying to tell is of the early years of Mandela up until the imprisonment," he said. "He is rightly now seen as the greatest living human being, a man who delivered South Africa from the brink of a civil war, but he was once on the military wing of the ANC."

Speaking for the first time since the reaction to The Promise, Kosminsky said that as a former documentary-maker he was drawn to contentious subjects, such as the death of Dr David Kelly, tackled in The Government Inspector.

The Promise, which drew comparisons between the Zionist militancy of the 1940s which fought for independence from British rule and Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel, has been acclaimed as a powerful drama, but has provoked attacks from some commentators who see it as biased against Israel. The novelist Howard Jacobson has accused the serial of being a "ludicrous piece of brainwashed prejudice". In France, it prompted demonstrations when it was broadcast in March, with an official disclaimer labelling it fiction. In Britain, Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, examined the screenplay after receiving complaints and ruled last month that there had been no breach of its code of conduct. The drama has been nominated for a One World Media Award, with the results announced on Tuesday night, and for a Bafta ahead of the 22 May ceremony.

"I am beaten, but unbowed," said the writer. "The Promise is probably the thing I am most proud of. I knew it would raise hackles with some people, but the thing I have found most difficult, as a Jew, is the suggestion that the criticism of Israel is racist." Kosminsky sees parallels between the situation in Israel and the former apartheid regime in South Africa. "I would describe it as apartheid. I was not seeking to reflect this view in The Promise, but if you ask me personally, then I do. What is happening in Israel is very akin to the concept of separate development. It reminds me of the Bantustan policy of the South African government."

In the 1940s Bantustan territories were set aside for black inhabitants of South Africa as part of apartheid. The writer said that his approach to Mandela's story would be to "confront people of a certain political persuasion that this is a more complicated man than they might have believed".

The Film4 production, with the working title Young Mandela, is yet to be cast, but will feature the roles of Winnie Mandela; Evelyn, his first wife; Joe Slovo, who led the communist party; and Thabo Mbeki's father, Govan. Kosminsky said that the film would include a scene in which Mandela was shown instructing activists on how to blow up a building, but that he would underline the ANC's policy of avoiding human casualties. "I am not doing a hatchet job on him. I am probably his biggest fan," he said. "I was very involved with the anti-apartheid movement in my youth. In fact I used to give Adelaide Tambo a lift around London."

Kosminsky said that he was driven as much to tell a good story as to explain a period of history. "My primary purpose for making The Promise was artistic." Critics of the serial said that it focused on the lives of rich Israelis and gave a one-sided view. Kosminsky defended his decision to send his naive heroine, Erin, to stay with a wealthy family who had a grandfather who fought an armed campaign in the Mandate period after the second world war with the Zionist paramilitary organisation Irgun. "Her grandfather is based on a man I met at the Irgun museum, and the things he says are almost exactly what was said to me.
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