Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

(M) Roadshow DVD/BD & Digital Download

This film proves it can be tricky trying to fit a full life on screen. Justin Chadwick (The First Grader) has a good go at it, but a person like Nelson Mandela needs a mini-series rather than a two hour picture and this is kind of a cliff notes highlight of his life and work.

Based on the book Long Walk to Freedom and starring Idris Elba in a stunning performance as Mandela and Naomie Harris as the feisty Winnie, the film tries to pivot on the central relationship between Winnie and Nelson, and like their relationship it doesn’t quite work.

We start at the beginning and the film uses major news items as beats in the film, jumping from the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960 to his arrest in 1963, then from his subsequent 27 years in jail to his eventual release. That’s a lot of ground to cover in two and half hours, and while the film is pitch perfect in design, costuming and performances, one can’t help feel the whole affair to be rushed.

Of the apartheid regime, only President FW De Klerk (Gys de Villiers) and a prison warden are given any meaningful screen time. It’s a problem with the movie’s approach, so many incidents are shown on screen, but much has also been left out.

The scenes in themselves are all well filmed, but they feel just like that, individual scenes. Elba and Harris give pitch pefect performances, although both are better when dealing with their characters at a young age.

The one thing that is well highlighted is the importance of Winnie in the apartheid battle, despite her faults. Winnie has the biggest arc in the film, going from a feisty young beauty to a devoted campaigner to the cause. Chadwick worked with Harris on his previous film shot in Africa, The First Grader.

Elba’s face has been transformed to make the actor look more like Mandela. He is terrific as womaniser and young radical, delivering a rousing speech at a cinema and also in the run-up to the 1994 election calling for peace on television.

Chadwick gambles that the central love story will carry the picture – a young couple driven apart by political necessity. The fact that their relationship is strained and they spend a large portion of it apart means that perhaps this focus is why the film doesn’t quite do Mandela’s legacy justice.

Adrian Drayton

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