SA-born playwright wins an Oscar

31 March 2003

Cape Town-born playwright Ronald Harwood, who won an Oscar for his screenplay of the Holocaust movie The Pianist, may be a long way from home, but he credits South Africa for his success in the film industry.

Harwood’s first Oscar win was not his first nomination. Harwood was first nominated for an Oscar in 1972 in the category of best original script for The Dresser, starring Albert Finney.

Harwood left Cape Town at 17 to follow his dreams in London. However, this week his thoughts returned to his birthplace after he received the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

The Sunday Times reports that Harwood’s love for the theatre and films started when he was a child and his mother took him to the theatre in Cape Town. He became part of a theatre group while still at Sea Point Boys’ High, and won a scholarship to study drama in London.

“I had a wonderful time in Cape Town. There was a company called the Brian Brooke Company, which staged plays in the Hofmeyer Hall. It was a weekly repertoire company and I went every week. I saw all the hits from London there.

“I loved it and my mother loved the theatre and encouraged me to go. I had a wonderful teacher called Sybil Marx, now dead, who taught me and [acclaimed British actor] Nigel Hawthorne”, Harwood told Sunday Times.

Harwood wrote the adapted screenplay for the film of Alan Paton’s novel, Cry the Beloved Country. Before that, he firmed his reputation in America with HBO’s Mandela, which starred Danny Glover and Alfre Woodard as Nelson and Winnie Mandela and was one of the pay TV service’s first original films.

Harwood believes that the South African film industry has the potential to rise to the level of the Australian film industry.

He also expressed astonishment at the small number of films made about the apartheid era, and feels that more films about this era need to make it onto the big screen.

SouthAfrica.info reporter