Review: Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

23:15, Jan 30 2014
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
THE STAND: Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, Tony Kgorge as Walter Sisulu, Riaad Moosa, as Ahmed Kathrada and Thapelo Mokena as Elias Motsoaledi in a scene from the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom was released in South Africa only days before the man died.

There is no mention I can find that Mandela saw the film. And that strikes me as a pity.

Because I think that Mandela, with his great wit, his sense of mischief, his legendary forgiveness, and even his famous vanity, would have enjoyed the film immensely.

Mandela takes us from Madiba's early days as a street-tough lawyer, through his conversion to freedom fighter and state-branded 'terrorist', the twenty-six years of imprisonment, to his eventual international re-emergence as the great reconciliator, and the father of modern South Africa.

It is a sweeping, at times breath-taking story, and Mandela tells it very well indeed. The big moments are here, and enough detail and irreverence to let us know that we are in the hands of competent and confident film-makers.

 I saw the story I expected to see, but I also saw a great deal more.


Director Justin Chadwick also has The First Grader on his CV, and that film would make a fine training ground for this.

In the lead, Idris Elba is wonderfully good. He gives the young Mandela all the swagger, the charm, and the incorrigible flirtatiousness that the man surely had.

You don't earn that twinkle in your eye at 70 without breaking a few hearts in your day, and Elba's portrayal of a sharp suited carouser with one foot always on the dance floor is beautifully done.

His transformation from a man who loves life to a man who will die for the freedom of others to live is utterly convincing.

 Indeed, Mandela makes a great case for only ever electing leaders who were lovers and carousers in their youth; who else would you trust to value your freedom, except someone who enjoyed theirs?

Beside Elba, Naomie Harris is astonishing as Winnie Mandela.

Winnie has become a figure of fear and revulsion to many people, but Mandela does much to rehabilitate and explain her.

While Nelson was imprisoned, it was Winnie who bore the brunt of the police's fury, and it was by brutalising Winnie the government hoped to destroy the spirit of Nelson. The film's fair and illuminating treatment of Winnie is perhaps Mandela's most indelible achievement.

Behind the story we thought we knew, is the one we should have understood a lot better.

It is impossible to adequately convey a life as broad as Mandela's in one film. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom does a very creditable job of trying. Recommended.

Rated: M
Directed by Justin Chadwick

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