A World Apart (1988)




Director:  Chris Menges.

Starring:  Jodhi May (Molly Roth), Jeroen Krabb (Gus Roth), Barbara Hershey (Diana Roth), Nadine Chalmers (Yvonne Abelson), Maria Pilar (Spanish Dance Teacher), Kate Fitzpatrick (June Abelson), Tim Roth (Harold), Phyllis Naidoo (Sareda), Linda Mvusi (Elsie), Carolyn Clayton-Cragg (Miriam Roth), Yvonne Bryceland (Bertha), Mackay Tickey (Milius), Merav Gruer (Jude Roth), Albee Lesotho (Solomon), Clement Muchachi (Sipho).

a white teenage daughter comes to terms with her father and mother's work against apartheid in South Africa  


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

South Africa. June 1963.  Molly has to say good-bye to her father, Gus Roth.  He tells her that he will be gone for a few weeks to maybe a month.  Molly asks him to wish her luck in her dancing performance of the flamenco.

Yvonne is Molly's best friend.  Her mother picks up both Yvonne and Molly from school.  On the way to their houses they see a white man in his car strike a black man on a bicycle.  The white driver just simply backs up, pulls around the man and drives off. 

Molly visits her mother Diana Roth at her place of work.  Her mother is a reporter and she is writing about the forced labor of black men kidnapped from their families. 

At home Molly hears that the first arrests have been made under the 90 Day Detention Act.  Members of the African National Congress were arrested.  Molly and Yvonne listen and do the hula-hoop to Chubby Checker's recording of the Twist.  Elsie is the name of their black servant.  Her brother Solomon Mabuso and his friend Sipho Dlamini come to Molly's home to see Elsie.  The Roth house is used to have singing and dancing along with race mixing.  The police with dogs arrive.  They have a warrant for the arrest of Gus Roth, but Mrs. Roth explains he is not there.  They then scold Diana for violating the law prohibiting giving alcoholic drinks to blacks.

At school, Molly receives a message saying "traitor".  Yvonne comes to her rescue and starts a fight with the girls behind the message.  Both Molly and Yvonne have to report to the school office.  At home Diana's colleague Harold talks to her about someone talking to the police about her activities.  Harold and Diana attend a black bus protest.  The police stop their car for giving blacks a ride. 

Back at home the police are confiscating a lot of Diana's papers and documents.  What they are interested in are documents with the names and numbers of banned people.  They arrest her under the 90 Days Detention Act.  Molly cries to see her mother have to go to jail.  At night Molly burns articles about her mother and dad.  Molly is very upset over her mother and father being gone.  She tells her grandmother not to sit at the table in her mother's or father's chairs.  Grandmother responds:  "Sometimes I wonder if you've got a heart."  Molly's mother is not allowed visitors as of yet.

Molly finally goes back to school.  At school Yvonne goes home with another girl, which disappoints Molly.  She calls Yvonne but cannot get through to her.  So she goes over to her house.  But Yvonne's father drives up to the locked gate and asks Molly what the hell she is doing at his house.  He tries to force Molly into his car so he can drive her home, but she runs away.  He chases her in his car, catches her and forces her into his car.  He drops her off near her house, telling her that she is not to see Yvonne again. 

The police interrogate Diana Roth.  One policeman shows her a picture of a bloodied child and refers to people like her as "You murderers!"  Diana responds by bringing up the massacre at Sharpesville.  The officer slaps her across the face. 

Elsie takes Molly to shantytown with her where Molly suffers from a little culture shock.  She eats dinner with Elsie and her family but cannot bring herself to eat the chicken foot in her soup.  Elsie's brother gives a rousing speech at a church meeting.  The police arrive.  They arrest the brother and take Elsie and Molly back to the Roth home. 

The Roth children and grandmother come to see Diana only to find that their mother has been transferred to the prison in Pretoria.  Harold comes to the Roth home to tell the children that granny is not well and has to go for a rest for awhile.  Molly has to go to boarding school, a place that she just hates. 

Molly has to report to the school secretary.  There she learns that her grandmother and two sisters have come for a visit with her.  Molly tells them how unhappy she is. 

Diana is released from prison and given her release papers.  But as she tries to make her first telephone call on the public street, two police officers arrest her again on the same 90 Day Detention Act.  Harold has the unpleasant duty of telling Molly about her mother's re-arrest.  In prison, Diana starts a hunger strike.  The authorities release her, but put her under twenty-four hour house arrest.  News arrives that Elsie's brother has been killed in prison.  Molly shouts to the police surveillance officers to leave them alone. 

Molly reads a message from her mother to her father placed on the back of the front cover of a book from the prison library.  It is a suicide note.  Molly is shocked that her mother once considered killing herself.  The police arrive on one of the children's birthdays to "take a look around".  One of the policemen picks up the book with the suicide note and Molly rushes him and pushes him against the room window.  The policeman wants to grab her, but her mother intervenes on her behalf.  (But she did avert attention away from the book.)

Molly is still very angry at her mother.  She confronts her about the suicide note.  Her mother tells her that in prison she was breaking apart and was afraid she might give up and name names that would hurt people she loves and admires.  But Molly still calls her selfish and tells her that she does not love her children.  Finally, Molly gets through to her mother and Diana admits:  "You're right.  It's not fair."  She starts to open up to Molly. 

Diana, Molly and grandmother all attend Solomon's funeral.  At the funeral everyone raises their right hand in a salute of defiance.  Molly finally raises her hand.  The police arrive yet again. 

Ruth First (Diana Roth) was assassinated August 17, 1982.  The film is dedicated to her and the thousands of others killed in the struggle against apartheid. 


Good movie.  We see the suffering caused by political repression in South Africa through the eyes of a young teenage girl whose mother and father are harassed for being communists and supporters of the anti-apartheid struggle.  The arrest of one family member hurts all the members of the extended family and the movie makes us very aware of this.  It was nice to see Molly finally realize the importance of and bravery of her mother's and father's sacrifice for a better world.   It's too bad, however, that Molly's parents weren't more open with her and the other children from the start.  Molly concluded that her parents did not love her or her two sisters and this has to be seen as mostly the fault of the parents.   

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)