The Drama That Crossed The Line

TELEVISION Sophie Perryer

WHEN the makers of The Line chose a title for their series, they must have suspected someone would accuse them of having crossed it. After all, when politics is involved you can’t please everyone. But while The Line’s sympathies are unmistakably with the ANC, the people the series is going to please most are those who were beginning to despair about the quality of local television drama.

Recently, the Star Tonight TV Awards reflected a terrible dearth of good local drama; almost simultaneously, The Line proved that it’s possible to make one — and was pulled off our screens after the first of three episodes following accusations by IFP leader Themba Khoza of political bias. Now, with more publicity than it could have hoped for, The Line has a lot to live up to. The good news is, it delivers.

Brilliantly written and directed by Brian Tilley, the story of The Line in its broadest conception is that of ordinary people whose lives are disrupted by violence endemic to this country before the elections. The action hops between Soweto and Hillbrow, as a member of the ANC Youth League and his girlfriend are forced to leave the township after he witnesses a train massacre carried out by an Inkatha supporter.

The richness of the story lies in its broad array of characters — archetypes in specifically local incarnations – – and the dynamic, uniquely South African multilingual mix in which they speak. Sub-titles appear for all languages except English — which must have been particularly necessary for viewers in England, where the series (made in collaboration with the UK’s Channel Four) was initially screened prior to the South African elections.

The hero, Bongani (played by Vusi Kunene), is a serious young poet, battling to reconcile his idealism with the harsh realities of the struggle; Jerry Mofokeng is chilling as the villain — the IFP hostel dweller behind the violence and in cahoots with the police. Don’t expect a damsel in distress: Bongani’s girlfriend (Grace Mahlaba) is more militant than he is.

There’s the jovial shebeen owner (Ramalao Makhene) with whom Bongani stays in Hillbrow; the wise old grandmother (Dolly Rathebe) whose dreams keep her awake at night.

In Hillbrow, a sub-plot plays out involving the residents of the block of flats where Bongani seeks refuge. When a ruthless black yuppie (Sello Maake kaNcube) buys the block and ups the rent without warning, the residents — among them a racially mixed couple and a pair of black gay men; you can’t accuse The Line of not being inclusive — respond by boycotting the increase. Even here, the filmmakers were spot on: Coniston Court made the news this week when residents took to the streets with placards under threat of eviction.

Fast-paced, well acted to a background of orginal South African music, The Line does succumb to one local hang-up: the tendency to close with a lecture. But when it comes, it’s from an unlikely source, and with unexpected resonances. More than that, the series is a lesson to local filmmakers — to set their standards higher, and not to take the line of least resistance.

* All three episodes of The Line will be screened on CCV tomorrow night at 8.30pm.



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