Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: Review

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It wouldn’t be award season without some kind of biopic in the mix and this year sees one of the most important and iconic politicans to have ever lived, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, having his story given the big screen treatment.

Long Walk to Freedom, based on Mandela’s autobiography, documents the anti-apartheid revolutionaries life from his childhood all the way to his inauguration as the first democratically elected President of South Africa.

I saw this yesterday and so have had plenty of time to let the film fully sink in. The more I’ve thought about it, the more successful I think the film actually is. There’s a lot to like about Long Walk to Freedom.

Firstly it does an excellent job in getting right to the core of Mandela and showing a different side to the man than people have seen on film before, that some people unfamiliar to his story may be even shocked to discover. At the beginning of the film he is shown to be reckless, selfish, aggressive, a womaniser and a cheat who essentially becomes a terrorist in the struggle for freedom. This couldn’t be further away from the loveable, teddy bearish image that most people would associate with an elderly Mandela and that’s sort of the point.

The great thing about Nelson Mandela’s story is that it isn’t simply one about a good man who fought a peaceful fight against apartheid, it’s the fact that he was a man with many flaws, who made many mistakes, who at one point encouraged violence but who ultimately learnt from his mistakes, learnt that violence wasn’t the answer, learnt to forgive and in doing so became the great man that he will always be remembered for. This film documents that journey, that struggle really well with some powerful scenes throughout which at times gave me goosebumps.

The direction by Justin Chadwick, the camerawork and the cinematography all make Long Walk to Freedom look visually stunning too. You feel like your right there in Africa, like you can almost touch it, smell it and there are shots of beauty throughout.

Idris Elba who I’ve always been a big fan of may not necessarily cry out Nelson Mandela in terms of appearance, especially in the scenes where he’s older, but if you can get past that, which I easily could, you should find his performance to be quite an achievement. Elba has such an amazing on-screen presence in everything he does and this is no different.¬†

The performance that really took me by surprise though was Naomie Harris who plays Winnie Madikizekla, Mandela’s second wife, who in herself is a fascinating character. Harris gives such a raw, passionate piece of acting which pretty much blew me away and made me feel great sympathy for her character more than anything. She deserves just as much attention as Elba and hopefully will pick up a few awards for this.

Now I do have a couple of slight issues with the film in that at times it can feel slightly drawn out and overly long which I suppose is only a minor issue considering if anybody deserves a long film about their life, it’s Mandela. I just think at times the film chooses to perhaps focus on aspects of his life far less interesting than others. There’s one or two scenes which easily could have been replaced for more stuff with Mandela on the run or in prison, something I would have liked to have seen but again this is only a minor complaint.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is overall a powerful biopic that proves to be all the more poignant since the recent death of this great man. It’s a truly moving piece of cinema with some stand out performances that will be sure to touch you in some way if you go see it this weekend.


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