Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
dir Justin Chadwick
scr William Nicholson
prd Anant Singh, David M Thompson
with Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Fana Mokoena, Zolana Mkiva, Jamie Bartlett, Deon Lotz, Lindiwe Matshikiza, Terry Pheto, Simo Mogwaza, Thapelo Mokoena
release US 29.Nov.13, UK 3.Jan.14
13/UK Pathe 2h32
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
A natural leader: Kgoroge and Elba

harris lotz pheto
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom You get the feeling that the filmmakers see this soaring biopic as the definitive movie about Nelson Mandela. And it's not a bad attempt, offering a populist journey through the iconic man's life from childhood to taking office as South Africa's first freely elected president. And it's worth seeing for how it depicts exactly why he's such an important figure.

After growing up in a Xhosa village, Nelson Mandela (Elba) becomes a lawyer in 1940s Johannesburg, complete with a lovely wife (Pheto) and family. But he can't remain silent about the vicious injustice that surrounds him. Leaving his wife, he becomes an activist fighting peacefully for equality. The South African government responds by making life even worse for the nation's ethnic majorities, so the African National Congress turns to violence, and its leaders are sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. Including Nelson, now married to Winnie (Harris) and has two young daughters.

Mandela spent nearly 30 years in prison distilling the ideas that would help him lead his nation through its rebirth, which could easily have turned into a bloodbath without his wise guidance. The script of course has to race through all of this, but manages to include most of the key elements along the way. Much trickier is keeping Mandela from looking like a saint, although both the filmmakers and Elba try valiantly to add some darker layers.

Ageing from about 25 to 75, Elba ambitiously gets under Mandela's skin to play the role. He certainly has the physicality and charisma, and through sometimes iffy makeup looks eerily like Mandela. So even if the performance feels inconsistent, it's engaging and impressive, letting us understand how Mandela's awareness of future possibilities pushed him to find an unusually positive solution to volatile political situation.

A terrific collection of actors play Mandela's family, friends and colleagues. And there's a sense that director Chadwick has worked for authenticity throughout the production (aside from modern-day Johannesburg as a backdrop for scenes that take place in the 1940s). This is an ambitious film that tells a sweeping story with an attention to detail and a focus on the personalities and relationships. The picturesque photography and surging score will make it feel like an epic for most moviegoers, but a darker, edgier approach might have made it more memorable.

cert 15 themes, language, strong violence 17.Oct.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall