I went a special screening of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom tonight. I’m not a believer in coincidences but I have to say it is uncanny how life can be for this was planned before last Thursday, fate definitely played a role in me going to this movie in this week. It is not even on general release here yet.
I went to the screening, as someone who has read the book from which the movie gets its name, as someone who has studied South African history and someone who has a South African mother so I am very familiar with the story. This was either going to be a hindrance or an added bonus. The jury is still out. I wanted to love this movie but I do understand that it is nigh impossible to do both – Nelson Mandela’s life and South Africa’s complex past – justice in just under two and half hours.
I am not giving anything away when I say Idris Elba as Mandela is superb. You can see for yourself in the trailers. I admit when it comes to Elba I am fan, the dude knows his music and he’s great as Luther (BBC drama). He doesn’t look like the man but he captures the way Mandela’s enunciates perfectly and he does embody the character so that after a while as you get lost in the story, you do believe Elba is Mandela. I heard that when Mandela saw bits of the movie, he thought he was watching himself. That has to be the ultimate compliment for Elba. The other significant performance in the movie is that of Naomie Harris who does a brilliant turn as Winnie. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr Oscar comes calling for either of these performances.
The movie does chronicle Mandela’s expansive history from his childhood, his time as a boxer, his lawyer days, his activism, the Rivonia Trial and the rest. It never delves too deeply on any event so it did feel like the director was ticking the boxes a bit. I felt it lacked the intensity that the film Gandhi had. There are poignant moments; the street violence, the separation from his family during his twenty seven years in jail and for me the most heart wrenching when he was not permitted to leave jail to go to his son’s funeral
I think in light of Mandela’s passing this movie will do well and it should, it is a story everyone needs to know. Yes the director took liberties but he has still captured the essence of Mandela’s story and it now takes it place as a testament of this incredible life lived.