Trailer: Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom
A chronicle of Nelson Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa.
PT2M29S http://www.smh.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2yuyi 620 349 December 6, 2013
- Running time
- 141 min
- Justin Chadwick
- Screen writer
- William Nicholson
- Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Gys de Villiers
- OFLC rating
- English, Afrikaans, Xhosa
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Reviewer’s rating: 6/10
Drama, rated M, 147 minutes, opens Thursday
Stars: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto, Tony Kgoroge, Jamie Bartlett
Director: Justin Chadwick
Verdict: A moving biopic of one of the most influential figures of our times
In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s recent death, aged 95, this well-intentioned adaptation of the great man’s best-selling autobiography inevitably takes on a greater poignancy and stature. British actor Idris Elba, who bears a remarkably close approximation to the younger Mandela’s physicality, was even nominated at last month’s Golden Globe Awards. With Mandela gone, a film that was initially maligned at the Toronto Film Festival last September is now being re-appraised.
The story is visually most interesting when focused on Mandela’s rise to radicalism while faced with a brutally oppressive apartheid regime in his native South Africa, which left its native population as third-class citizens. The young Mandela had an eye for the ladies – and they, him – and was energetic, powerful, passionate and courageous. Prior to his incarceration, which lasted 27 years, much of it in solitary confinement, he stumbled upon the sassy Winnie Madikizela and was in awe. Before long, they were married and raising a family. With Mandela behind bars, Winnie’s transformation began. She grew into a divisive figure who resolved to fight her husband’s incarceration while championing the cause he came to symbolise: the emancipation of black South Africans from white oppression.
Idris Elba is a commanding presence in the role of Mandela, shown during his 27 years in jail.
Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) hails largely from a TV background that has included period-drama Bleak House for the BBC. While his eye on history is sharp, he seems less confident helming a large-scale production such as this. On screen, it could easily pass as a TV movie, albeit one with an important story to tell. The horrors of apartheid-era South Africa are recreated effectively enough, but the latter part of Mandela’s life buckles under sentiment and heavy make-up. It could have wrapped with his release from jail, looking a shadow of his former self but otherwise in good spirits.
Elba provides a commanding presence in a role that has historically been approached with hushed reverence. Some would argue that playing Mandela while he was alive was thankless. With a figure so universally well known and liked, what could an actor bring to the role that hasn’t been seen for real? Morgan Freeman gave the most famous portrayal until now, in Clint Eastwood’s 2009 drama Invictus; other attempts have been made by Sidney Poitier, Danny Glover and Terrence Howard. Here, Elba is terrific as the younger Mandela, presenting a sort of loveable rogue very much focused at the task at hand.
Like her male co-star, Naomie Harris chose to avoid contact with previous big-screen outings about Mandela. Her reasoning was they had to keep things feeling fresh and spontaneous as well as historically true to the spirit of the story. As Winnie, her performance arguably provides us with the film’s greatest talking point. Playing the drastically shifting character – as Winnie morphs from an eye-catching 21-year-old to a tough, politically charged 57-year-old, scarred from battle – Harris displays an innate ability to inhabit a real-life, still-living character.
Audiences will recognise Harris from her career-changing role as Moneypenny in the last Bond action thriller, Skyfall. But as she so deftly displayed in television’s White Teeth, there’s a lot more to the bookish 37-year-old than 007.
But as the Mandelas’ marriage began to crumble following his release from prison on February 11, 1990 – they divorced two years after his May 1994 inauguration as president of South Africa – so the film’s energy begins to wander and wane. By the early 1990s, Winnie is an intimidating figure who feels foreign to her husband. Mandela, on the other hand, felt more Zen-like, having had plenty of time to meditate on life during three decades inside.
Mandela’s story may always prove beyond the grasp of filmmakers, such is the enormity of it and the legacy it provides for the world today. Factor in, too, that an expansive family understandably takes great pride and interest in such projects, and one begins to understand why until now the only way to portray Mandela was with great reverence.
Elba provides some essential bite to stir the pot somewhat. As Mandela himself was at pains to point out, he was no saint. But he was a great man. Chadwick’s film goes some way in expressing that, even if it feels oddly lacking in the third act.