UK Release Date: 3rd January 2014
Runtime: 146 minutes
Director: Justin Chadwick
Writer: William Nicholson
Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa
Synopsis: A chronicle of the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela, from his youth of activism to his ascent to rule the country that previously shunned him and the rest of its black population.
When director Justin Chadwick first began work on William Nicholson’s adaptation of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, it was an important and enormous task. And then, on 5th December 2013, the former South African leader passed away, and the film’s stakes were raised.
Thankfully, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is an excellent film that is a fitting tribute to one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century.
Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) comes of age in a divided South Africa under apartheid. He ascends from low-level activism to lead the African National Congress and, with the aid of his wife Winnie (Naomie Harris), he begins to make a difference until he is arrested as a terrorist and imprisoned on Robben Island.
| “People learn to hate. They are taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has a level of responsibility on its shoulders that few awards season biopics have to deal with. Fortunately, it is a weighty and intelligent tale with a fantastic performance from Idris Elba at its centre.
Elba brings an incredible gravitas to the role. The Luther star inhabits Mandela without it ever feeling like an impression and conveys both the light and shade of the man’s personality with equal quality. It’s a fastidious, controlled performance that only falters when he finds himself covered in ageing make-up in the film’s later stages. It rids him of his subtlety and control.
The statesmanlike lead performance is accompanied by a turn of incredible power from Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela. She flips from sexy seductress to ferocious freedom fighter in a matter of minutes. It’s a virtuoso display that deserves recognition when the awards are handed out.
| “If needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
At 146 minutes, it’s tempting to criticise Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom for being a pedestrian waste of time that over-indulges hugely. However, thanks mostly to the intensity of the performances, the film never feels long, especially given the amount of ground that it manages to cover.
More than just the usual worthy awards season biopic, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a real tribute to the great man it depicts. It wisely avoids the temptation of hagiography and acknowledges the complexity of a man whose footsteps will echo through the ages.
Pop or Poop?
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is one of the most interesting awards season biopics of recent years. It is able to work with the many layers of the leader it depicts.
Elba and Harris give excellent performances as Mandela and his wife Winnie. Whilst Elba is later overwhelmed by ageing make-up and slightly dodgy dialogue, his performance is the definitive screen Mandela.
Likely to be overlooked during the awards season scrum, Long Walk to Freedom is a great biopic that really deserves to be seen.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.