A World Apart provides a sharp glimpse of what it was like to be politically contrary in the early 1960s in South Africa. It is mostly told from the p.o.v. of a 13-year-old girl, Molly (Jodhi May), whose life becomes dramatically disrupted as a result of her parents’ subversive activities.
Set in 1963, story is described as a fictionalized account of what happened to young Shawn Slovo, the writer, and her family when the authorities began cracking down on them. Pic traces the growing emotional and political awareness of the youngster, but also represents a daughter’s critique of what she perceives as her mother’s selfish absorption in concerns she condescendingly considers above her offspring’s head.
The casual cruelties and injustices of the South African system are displayed as part of life’s fabric, but what’s really going on with Molly’s parents, as well as the friendly blacks who often visit the house, remains unclear and out of reach to the girl.
Barbara Hershey (as the mother) represents a solid central figure for the film. Nevertheless, the limited, daughter’s-eye viewpoint restricts one’s access to the woman’s inner self, the source of her political beliefs and her self-image.
Happily, May is at all times engaging as Molly, sustaining the film with no problem. Performances throughout are uniformly naturalistic and believable, and pic, which was shot in Zimbabwe, possesses a rich, luminous look despite a limited budget.