Barbie World + [skin]

Only Skin Deep

Skin

SKIN (true story)

In 1955, Sandra Laing was born, much to the joy of proud parents Abraham and Sannie Laing. But there was a problem, she was born black and her parents, their parents, grandparents and great grandparents were white Afrikaners. It was a biological anomaly that would have been unusual anywhere - but in apartheid South Africa it was disastrous. Sandra's amazing true story is brought to the silver screen in the film Skin, from British filmmaker Anthony Fabian.

It opens with a grown Sandra (played by Sophie Okonedo, above) sitting on bus with her two children, preparing to vote at the first free elections in South Africa. However, we are quickly taken back to Sandra as child (Ella Ramangwane) getting ready for her first day at school. It is clear she is the apple of her parents eye, however, her enthusiasm about attending school quickly disappears when she is ostracised, bullied and abused by her peers and teachers at the all-white school. After several complaints from parents, Sandra is expelled due to her coloured appearance. Outraged, her father Abraham (Sam Neill) takes the case to court and a media circus ensues. Eventually, she is allowed to return white schools and we are brought forward to Sandra as a teenager.

Shy, awkward and clearly uncomfortable within her own community, society still struggles to accept Sandra although she has been legally classified `white'. Despite her parents best attempts to have her date several white boys, she eventually falls in love and runs away with a local black boy. And so begins her dramatic journey from rejection to acceptance and betrayal to reconciliation, as she struggles to define her place in a changing world.

Filmed in South Africa, this film looks and feels authentic as it moves through decade to decade of Sandra's story. This is thanks to fantastic location shots, sets and a largely South African cast. Skin is the debut feature film from Anthony Fabian, who comes from a background in short films and music documentaries, and his inexperience shows in a number of typically film-school shots and montages. Fabian also writes and produces the film along with several other people, so he cannot be held entirely responsible for the jumpy screenplay. Like another recent biopic, Creation, the film tries to fit too much in and the awkward flashbacks jump around Sandra's story rather than allowing the audience to focus on the gravity of it.

Okonedo delivers a performance as equally masterful as her Oscar-nominated turn in Hotel Rwanda. She captures Sandra's surface discomfort and underlying strength perfectly. However, beautiful and youthful as she is, it is a tad ridiculous to have the 41-year-old actress playing Sandra as a 16-year-old through to adulthood. She simply looks too old to be playing a teenager, despite the filmmakers best attempts to play-down her womanhood. Sam Neill is a force of nature as the passionate and contradictory father, despite his dodgy South African accent, and Alice Krige as Sannie Laing is delightful. Technical flaws aside, it is difficult not to be moved by this incredible true story and for most audiences, that will make all the difference. Skin opens in cinemas next Thursday, July 22 and stay glued for my exclusive interview with the writer, producer and director Anthony Fabian.