Shepherds & Butchers (UEL Centrepiece Gala)

When a traumatised death row guard is arrested for a violent murder, no one in 1987 South Africa will take his case. That is until maverick lawyer John Weber (Steve Coogan) steps forward, in doing so challenging the very system that allows prisoners to be executed for their crimes, and directly leading to a change to the law in the dying days of Apartheid. Featuring phenomenal turns from Coogan and Andrea Riseborough, Oliver Schmitz’s film is inspired by true events, which questions how a society can ever expect people to act as both shepherds and butchers, and for there not to be awful consequences, while also pointing to a better, more hopeful future.

Followed by a Q&A with star Andrea Riseborough. Tickets available from the Picturehouse website here.


  1. Stephen Mendel Reply

    I saw the film last night. I found it gripping with the executions on Death Row really horrifying because of the way the hangings were shown.
    I’m an ex South African who’s just returned from 2 1/2 months there. What resonated for me was how the characters were shown and that the focus was on the white warder on trial for murder. It struck me afterwards the primary roles were played by white actors and in the after show discussion the woman who played the Prosecutor referred to the black actors minor non spoken roles as ‘extras’ which I thought was demeaning. I was puzzled why these actors who played mainly passive roles in the hangings and murder weren’t given a voice and their family members who attended the trial weren’t included either. For me it showed how easy it is for visitors to become immersed in the new South Africa without seemingly considering the privileges they have compared to the majority of black citizens.
    After the time I spent in South Africa this reminded me of my experience there where most white citizens haven’t taken responsibility for their roles in maintaining apartheid, haven’t engaged in reconciliation, barricaded themselves if they can afford it in gated communities, maintained their privileges and wealth. There’s a confidence now in the way that the ANC oppresses poor citizens on behalf of the corrupt elite from which they benefit financially. While the film really stirred me up what it shows for me is a new confidence among white artists like the firm maker and actors to produce films which show a mentally disturbed warder sympathetically while giving the impression that the victims families and supporters were wrong to feel like he needed to be punished like anyone else at that time who’d committed the same crime.

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