Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

By Freda Cooper 30.12.2013 1

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (UK Rating: 12A)

It's the season for reconciliation - at the movies, at least. Later in January, in The Railway Man, it's on a personal level, with a former Prisoner of War going back to his past on the Burma Railway. However, this week - from 3rd January in the UK - it's both personal and epic, with the arrival of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Based on Nelson Mandela's autobiography of the same name - which he handed over to the filmmakers and trusted them to get on with it - it traces his life from the early years as a young township lawyer, through political activism, lengthy imprisonment and, finally, his eventual release and steering South Africa into a new, apartheid-free, era.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

It's a huge story, rich with events and characters, some well-known, others less so, and it's an equally huge challenge for any film maker. This adaptation was 17 years in the making, so producer Anant Singh and award-winning screenwriter William Nicholson, constant factors throughout, deserve credit for sheer tenacity and belief in the project, if nothing else. They were, however, under more than a little pressure: being handed the autobiography with the instruction that Mandela didn't want to hear any more about the film until it had been made brought huge responsibility. It was another long walk.

The sheer scale of his story is the film's biggest challenge - and, unfortunately, its biggest problem. Even in just under two and a half hours, the movie struggles to do it justice - ironic, considering that other, lesser books have been stretched to fit into two or more lengthy films. It means that some events are compressed or even hardly noticeable, while others are dwelt on, making for an uneven feel, alternating between the sketchy and the detailed.

There are insights, though, especially into the younger Mandela, who is presented as a far cry from the dignified elder statesman everyone became used to. Athletic and attractive, he has an eye for the ladies and his first marriage descends into violence. For some time, he resists violence as a means for overthrowing apartheid: his about turn is a decision with massive implications, not just for him but the entire country.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Aside from these, and the film's uneven feel, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a straightforward biopic - solid, suitably respectful and eminently watchable, mainly thanks to the central performance from Idris Elba. Already tipped as an award winner, he carries the film easily on his substantial shoulders, nailing Madiba's distinctive voice with impressive precision. However, there is more to his performance than a mere impersonation. As well as the humble, dignified elderly Mandela, he also shows the canny, shrewd political operator who, even as a prisoner, was able to turn a seemingly hopeless situation to his advantage.

Naomi Harris makes for a spirited Winnie Mandela and viewers are left in no doubt that her brutalisation at the hands of the South African authorities changed her character forever. The way in which she and her husband coped with their respective treatment is thrown into sharp contrast and is seen as tearing both them, and their marriage, apart. As Mandela himself points out to her, "We both spent too much time alone."

Director Justin Chadwick shows a distinct flair for orchestrating the many crowd scenes: they are convincing and, at key moments, stirring. He elegantly incorporates archive news footage to both move the story along and give it authenticity, rather than using it simply as a narrative device. He has also produced a movie that, given the events surrounding its Royal screening in early December, is suitably respectful and gives the audience some understanding of the achievements of one of the modern world's greatest statesmen.

Image for Feature | Lights, Camera, Action! – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
As one single film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom cannot give anything more than just a flavour of the man's life. Hopefully, there will be a Director's Cut or Extended Version at some stage that may shed more light on the subject. Also, inevitably, more films will come, hopefully concentrating on some of the lesser known aspects of Mandela's life. For now, though, viewers have to content themselves with a film that tries, but struggles, to do justice to both the man and the statesman.

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As intriguing as this sounds, I can't quite summon up the enthusiasm to go watch it...

Freda, aren't you going to review The Harry Hill Movie?? Smilie It's got to be better than Keith Lemon's film...

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

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