The story of Nelson Mandela, a man who fought for an end to apartheid in South Africa, and changed the world… At great personal cost.
There is no doubt that the story of Nelson Mandela is an inspiring one; to go from criminal to President of the country that imprisoned him was a rather short journey in the end, but a remarkable one. The fact that the film comes up for release so soon after Mandela’s death means that there may be a lot of curious movie goers who want to find out more about Mandela, but the trouble is that this may not be the film to learn from.
It is difficult to tell whether Elba is giving a strong performance, or merely imitating Mandela. As well as this Elba is given a rather poor script to work with, one that focuses on the romantic, rather than the political, leaving Elba struggling to develop Mandela as the commanding, strong and important political and humanitarian figure that he was. Naomie Harris is strong as Winnie Mandela and captures the fierceness and strength of the character, but she is given little chance to show the motivations of a woman who stays married to a man imprisoned for 27 years.
The trouble with the film comes mainly from the screenplay. Adapting the life of one man into a film is troublesome enough, but Mandela lived such a long, rich and interesting life, that the film’s running time is greatly extended. Add to this the fact that Nelson Mandela almost lived three lives – activist, prisoner and President – then the film suffers from several false endings, and the feeling that it has been both stretched and truncated to fit the running time, and many important events are glossed over. Instead of getting to know Mandela the man, who became Mandela the legend, we are treated to a thin synopsis of Mandela’s life, which is only marginally more satisfying than reading the Wikipedia page dedicated to the man.
Director Justin Chadwick appears to be more preoccupied with telling as much as he can, as fast as he can in this film, meaning that Long Walk to Freedom turns into a history lesson, rather than an examination of a man who tenaciously plugged away at what he believed to be right. There are strengths in the film, but it is mainly Mandela’s speeches that engage the audience, leaving us wondering whether this is a portrayal of a character or an imitation of a man.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom would have made a fantastic mini series, which would have allowed the story to spool out in a more satisfying manner. As it stands, the film glosses over the life and times of a man who truly changed the world, leaving his story surprisingly unsatisfying. Elba and Harris do the best they can, and I defy anyone not to be moved when Mandela finally walks free of prison. Mandela’s story is one that impacted the world, but it is done a major disservice with this sweeping, romanticised and thin film.