The Power of One is the film adaptation of Australian novelist Bryce Courtenay’s similarly named novel about a young South African boy of English descent during the Second World War and the early years of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Young Peter Phillip Kenneth-Keith or PK, played by a trio of actors at different ages grows up as a poor orphan sent to religious and Nazi-supporting Afrikaner school where he is bullied by Afrikaner kids and later spends much time with various mentors in a prison he visits daily. The mentors educate him and train him to be a fine boxing champion whose purpose is to unite all the tribes of South Africa (Zulus, mixed-bloods, English, Afrikaners, and other Africans). Can PK succeed and rise to the many challenges, life, war, and Apartheid throw at him?
I remember seeing this film a few years after its released and being blown away and inspired by the story of this brilliant young boxer. Having caught the movie on television partly after its start, I did not know its title nor who the actors were and had been looking for it. What I remembered vividly was the incredible African-themed soundtrack filled with hymns and chants composed by Hans Zimmer. Unfortunately, in this age of extreme political correctness, such a movie would not fair well with critics. Much like Avatar, they young English hero would be accused of being a white saviour for the South African native tribes even though his almost biblical purpose was to unite all of South Africans, not just the Zulus.
The messianic aspect of the story also did not age as well. Why him instead of others. Significant changes in the story also altered the unifying scope of the film. Whereas in the sequel to The Power of one, PK is involved romantically with a young woman of African-Indian descent, in the film, he falls in love with the Afrikaner daughter of a local intolerant politician. He mixes with someone closer to him, even though the Boers hated the English in South Africa.
Nevertheless, boxing is always a strong motif when used in coming out age and hero’s journey’s stories, like The Power of One. Common themes that are ow regarded as derogatory, such as the older black mentor also known as magical negro appear in a stellar performance played by Morgan Freeman. In my youth, I found this music and its incredible soundtrack inspiring, uplifting, and worthy of being seen by many. I doubt modern critics would appreciate such a movie today, especially as it brushes over several moments very quickly without exploring deeper. For example, very little time was spent on explaining the lives of the Africans or the problems within the tribes. This is a film of the nineties and for a long time, did inspire me to do the right thing. Regardless of that and notwithstanding the violence displayed, I recommend this film to today’s viewers and people who are not overrun by political correctness but still want to see a film about people coming together. It’s the kind of film that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore.
The Power of One was released on DVD but may not be easy to obtain in every markets.