PlotBorn in 1930 to a recently widowed Englishwoman on a homestead in South Africa, little Peter Philip 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. Their easy life is forever shattered, however, when the farm's cattle are claimed by '' ''. PK's mother succumbs to a nervous breakdown, and he is sent away to a conservative boarding school while she recovers. Being the only English student at the boarding school, PK soon earns almost universal contempt from his scathing Afrikaners, Afrikaner fellows—particularly from Jaapie Botha, an older student. Botha's abuse and his inferiority complex strikes PK with a severe case of nocturnal enuresis, a habit which he eventually overcomes with local Traditional healers of Southern Africa, sangoma Dabula Manzi. In conquering his nightmares, PK is given a chicken (''Mother Courage''), which becomes his closest companion. Botha subsequently captures PK and Mother Courage and has them tried before a mock court while elaborating on the depth of his hatred for the British—a people he holds responsible for atrocities committed during the Second Boer War. The Afrikaans boys hang Mother Courage and kill her with a rock. When PK physically retaliates against Botha, they attempt to execute him in a similar manner but are interrupted by a teacher who later oversees Botha's expulsion. With his mother dying, PK finds himself living with his grandfather in Barberton, Mpumalanga, Barberton. He eventually seeks a mentor in Karl "Doc" von Vollensteen, a lonely Germans, German musician who lost his family in Europe. Doc warms to PK and under his guidance PK soon becomes an excellent pianist. He is interned as an enemy alien at the onset of , but PK continues to visit him regularly in prison. Doc introduces the boy to Geel Piet, a Cape Coloureds, Cape Coloured inmate who trains him to be an excellent boxer. Piet also impresses on PK his mantra: "first with the head, then with the heart". A maturing PK begins to express sympathy towards black prisoners, who are detained under appalling conditions. He works with Doc to distribute contraband among the Africans, writes their letters to home, and shares their many sufferings. The war does not end happily for PK, as Doc is repatriated and Piet is killed by a white warder. PK goes to study at the prestigious Prince of Wales School in Johannesburg. While attending a boxing championship, he is enamoured by Maria Marais, daughter of a leading National Party (South Africa), National Party official. Since her strict father will not permit them to see each other, they begin dating in secret. On one such outing they are introduced to Gideon Duma, a prominent boxer in Alexandra, Gauteng, Alexandra, a black township. Duma's passion for resisting inspires PK, and he begins teaching English at an African school. Maria's father, incensed by the couple's ongoing relationship and PK's ties to a multiracial gym, leads him to request a formal investigation by one of his South African Police contacts, Colonel Breyten. Breyten and his sergeant, an embittered Jaapie Botha, place PK under surveillance for subversion. His clashes with the police (which result in detainment of numerous people he knows) come to a head when Duma is severely injured and Maria is killed during a raid on their school in a conservative church along with numerous other innocent people. Maddened by grief, PK considers going to study at Oxford in England, but is consoled by a recovering Duma who shows him that all his teachings have finally shown progress and reminds him of all the good he can still do in Africa. Botha leads a violent raid on Alexandra the following night which results in Breyten's death at the hands of an enraged villager. Botha threatens to shoot Elias Mlungisi, the local boxing promoter, only to be confronted by PK. They fight, and PK easily beats his childhood enemy. A vindictive Botha is still bent on killing him with a hidden pistol, but an arriving Gideon Duma dispatches the policeman with a cricket bat before he can fire. Now wanted fugitives from the apartheid government, PK and Duma vow to continue a campaign against racial injustice with the aid of the other survivors. PK's closing narration identifies meaningful voices during his life, from his nanny, to Doc and Geel Piet, Dabula Manzi, and (finally) Maria.
Cast* Guy Witcher as PK at age 7 *Simon Fenton as PK at age 12 * Stephen Dorff as PK at age 18 * as Doc *Jeremiah Mnisi as Dabula Manzi *Ian Roberts (South African actor), Ian Roberts as Hoppie Gruenewald * as St. John, the Headmaster *Fay Masterson as Maria Marais * as Geel Piet * as Sergeant Jaapie Botha *Robbie Bulloch as the teenage Botha *Dominic Walker (actor), Dominic Walker as Morrie Gilbert *Faith Edwards as Miriam Sisulu *Alois Moyo as Gideon Duma *Brian O'Shaughnessy (actor), Brian O'Shaughnessy as Colonel Breyten *Marius Weyers as Professor Daniel Marais *Clive Russell as Sergeant Bormann *Winston Ntshona as Mlungisi *Nomadlozi Kubheka as Nanny *Mark Clements as school boy
Critical receptionThe film received mixed reviews. Review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes currently ranks the film at a 39% 'rotten' rating based on 18 reviews, with an weighted arithmetic mean, 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."