Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (2013)

MandelaWith peaceful protests getting his cause nowhere, and racial equality as unlikely as ever, Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) is forced to join the African National Congress and participate in organised guerrilla warfare against apartheid. His wife, however, is struggling to care for their two children, and with her husband spending more and more time behind bars she is left with no option but to leave. He then meets and marries Winnie (Naomie Harris), who takes over the fight for freedom when he is eventually arrested as a terrorist for inciting violence. While he and his accomplices bide their time in prison, sentenced to life but destined only to spend 27-years inside together, Winnie becomes radicalised and increasingly militant, until she finds herself at odds with her ever-more estranged husband.

Adapted by William Nicholson from Mandela’s 1994 autobiography — and directed by The Other Boleyn Girl‘s Justin Chadwich — Long Walk To Freedom finally arrives in cinemas only sixteen short years after Anant Singh first acquired the film rights. The man lived an incredible life, and provided bountiful source material for the filmmakers to exploit. Unfortunately, the one-time President of South Africa didn’t live long enough to see the finished film for himself; having suffered from a respiratory infection for many years, Mandela tragically died on December 5th, 2013 — the day of the film’s UK premiere.

Mandela did get a chance to see the final scene of the film, however, and — according to Harris — even mistook Elba for himself. While in long-shot the clothes, hair and gait might be sufficient to convince audiences that they are watching Nelson Mandela in action, up-close the likeness is far from uncanny. Elba is very good, but the more prosthetics he is forced to wear as his character gets older the more his performance suffers. Harris, playing the apparently ageless Winnie, is much less impaired, and much more consistent; she enjoys the film’s most extreme arc, from the love of Mandela’s life to his ideological opposite. Ultimately, however, it’s very much a two horse race, and aside from Elba and Harris nobody else makes that much of an impression.

You can’t help but feel that the filmmakers have bitten off more than they can chew. Mandela isn’t simply one of the most famous, loved and respected men of the moment, but a key political and humanitarian figure from world history. He’s a husband, a father, a lawyer, a revolutionary, an ex-President and a national — as well as international — hero. The film all but skips his childhood (where he earned the nickname “troublemaker”), speeds through his first marriage (to Evelyn Mase, here played by Terry Pheto) and turns 27 years of incarceration into little over 27  minutes of screentime (during which he is transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison, and then onto the much lower-security Victor Verster Prison). There is the sense throughout that the film is only scratching the surface.

Whether the filmmakers would have been better off adapting only a portion of the full memoir is difficult to say. While Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom might be unsatisfying it is still a respectable effort, boasting a couple of very good performances and a number of charged confrontations between the two key players. That said, it’s hard to imagine that this is the definitive biographical film about the life and works of Nelson Mandela.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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