Father Stephen Kumalo (James Earl Jones) is an Anglican clergyman in 1946 in a rural Zulu village in South Africa. His son, brother, and sister have all gone off to Johannesberg and not communicated since leaving. When Kumalo learns that his sister needs his help, he leaves for the big city on a mission of mercy. Of course, his real goal is to find his estranged son Absalom (Eric Miyeni).
Robbed as soon as he enters Johannesberg, the priest is joined by Father Msimangu (Vusi Kunene), a more savvy street person. With his assistance, Kumalo learns that his sister (Dambisa Kente) is a prostitute and that his brother (Charles S. Dutton) is a political activist who has renounced God and the church. Eventually Kumalo discovers that his son has been in reform school and has impregnated a young woman out of wedlock. Then Abaslom is taken to prison by the authorities for the murder of Arthur Jarvis during a botched robbery.
Meanwhile Jarvis's father James (Richard Harris), a rich farmer and white supremacist who lives in the same province as Kumalo, arrives in Johannesberg to bury his son. Looking through his son's papers he finds a scorching indictment of the racist policies of South Africa. James then visits a club that his son started for black youth.
Although Absalom claims that he shot Arthur Jarvis out of fear and not out of malice, he is sentenced to die. Kumalo arranges for a prison wedding and then promises his son that he will look after his wife and child.
After a chance encounter in Johannesberg where the two fathers realize the bond of sorrow and suffering they share, they meet again back home. Both men have been chastened by the loss of their sons, and through the miracle of forgiveness they are able to reach out to each other.
Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), directed by Darrell James Roodt, is based on Alan Paton's classic 1948 novel set in South Africa. Screenplay writer Ronald Harwood has brought this heralded work of art to the screen with its simple eloquence intact. Although this drama speaks out forcefully against apartheid and in favor of human rights, its real thrust is on a more intimate level of personal transformation. Here is a portrait of two anguished fathers and their refusal to despair in the face of terrible grief. For them, forgiveness forges a path toward reconciliation.