Based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same title, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom chronicles the South African President’s life from early childhood to anti-apartheid revolutionary and his subsequent 27 years imprisonment before being elected for Presidency.
Directed by Justin Chadwick, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is an ambitious film carried by the performances of leads Idris Elba and Naomie Harris in their roles of Nelson and Winnie Mandela, respectively. Despite big expectations to fill, British actor Idris Elba manages to portray Nelson Mandela with the respect and dignity deserved without sacrificing on authenticity. As Mandela, Elba is charismatic and robust, and while his accent does tend to falter at times, his onscreen presence is commanding enough to forgive the slight fluctuations. He offers an intelligent approach in creating the small nuances in character development as Mandela’s life progresses onscreen, an impressive feat given the film spans well over 60 years. If anything, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom shows how undervalued Elba’s acting has been in the past, and will hopefully create greater opportunities for him in the future.
While Idris Elba leads his supporting cast with exception, Naomie Harris is a pleasant surprise as the fiery Winnie Mandela. Winnie Mandela is an exceptional woman; her strength of character, courage, and conviction to her activism is something to be admired and to aspire to. Portraying such an influential woman would no doubt be intimidating for a performer, however Naomie Harris undertakes the role with aplomb. In Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, Harris is radiant onscreen; she performs with grace and poise, revealing a poignant underlying vulnerability even during Winnie’s great moments of strength and resilience. Similarly to Elba, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom has given Naomie Harris the opportunity to stretch her acting abilities. While Harris has gained considerable notice from her previous roles (most notably as Eve Moneypenny in the 2012 James Bond hit, Skyfall), here she has been able to showcase her talents by depicting a strong female character who transcends beyond the typical female roles so often seen in cinema today.
For the most part, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom’s cinematography offers an attractive visual landscape, particularly in the scenes where we visit Mandela’s hometown of Qunu. These moments are lovely and beautiful, filled with soft light and vibrant colour in what is an otherwise lacklustre palette throughout the majority of the film.
As I mentioned earlier, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is an ambitious film, and one that Chadwick unfortunately never manages to really lift to its full potential. Action seemed to drag at times, and despite being a reasonably comfortable length at just over two hours, by the three-quarter mark I couldn’t help feel restless for the end. Perhaps a more economical use of his time would have ensured Chadwick’s adaptation triumphed, though I do concede the challenge it would have been for screenwriter William Nicholson to edit what are all moments of consequence in Mandela’s story. That’s not to say this isn’t an interesting film – Nelson Mandela’s story is incredible and inspiring, and one that deserves to be shared. Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom will no doubt draw its audiences, though don’t be confused: it is Mandela’s life, and not the filmmaking itself, that makes this worth seeing.
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