Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Feb 06, 2014

This movie is not so much a long walk as a series of hops, skips and jumps across major stepping stones of Nelson Mandela’s life: from his childhood in a rural village to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

Based on Mandela’s autobiography, the movie is solid, entertaining and educational, covering the actions of the African National Congress (ANC) and horrendous events such as the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. The inclusion of dates helps the viewer to place in a global context the horrendous events and actions of the apartheid regime, which today seem so unbelievable. This is a movie that will encourage people to find out more about the era.

Long Walk to Freedom covers around seven decades of Mandela’s life, so it’s no surprise that it skitters quickly over the very early years with short sequences of the child Mandela dancing and playing in his village, to Mandela the teenager in tribal coming-of-age, to Mandela the suited lawyer cockily holding sway in the courtroom and using his charm with the ladies.

Then we settle into the three-part movie: the radical activist years; the prison years as the world’s most famous political prisoner; and, finally, the peacemaker years, leading to Mandela’s election in 1994. It is easy to adapt quickly to the film’s style – waiting for the next piece in the jigsaw of Mandela’s life to be revealed.

In the lead role, Idris Elba (you might remember him as Stringer Bell in The Wire) has to age over a number of decades, taking him from young firebrand to aged activist, and he certainly delivers. His stature gradually slips from powerful young buck to the measured steps of a measured elderly statesman. Congratulations are due to the make-up department, too.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom doesn’t ignore the flawed young man, so audiences get to see the womanising Mandela in his early years, and even signs of potential domestic violence. He isn’t portrayed as such a good husband and father. However, the latter part of the movie, while never mawkish or over-worthy, does come across as a reverential tribute. Perhaps this is inevitable; Mandela did, after all, gain hero status in the years he was in prison, rising to near-sainthood on his release.

It’s in the middle section where we see Winnie (Naomie Harris), Mandela’s wife of only four years at the time he was imprisoned, develop into the public face for the campaign to have her jailed husband released. She herself spent 16 months in solitary confinement during this period.

The third section is set when the de Klerk government starts negotiating with Mandela and then releases him in 1990, during a time of escalating civil strife. While problems with his first wife possibly get too much airplay at the beginning of the movie, there is only a glimpse of the troubles between Mandela and Winnie, his second wife, and the reasons for their marriage breakdown.

If you didn’t know much about  Mandela before, you will certainly get a potted history with Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: and it just might spark an interest in exploring certain aspects in more detail.

More InDaily film reviews:

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The Wolf of Wall Street
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