Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (M)

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Review byMatthew Turner23/12/2013

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 132 mins

Despite impressive period detail and strong performances from Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, this ultimately falls into the category of worthy but dull, thanks to a plodding script that's about as emotionally engaging as reading Nelson Mandela's Wikipedia page.

What's it all about?
Directed by Justin Chadwick, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is adapted from Mandela's own 1994 autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom. The film begins with Mandela (Idris Elba) growing up in a Xhosa village before becoming a lawyer in 1940s Johannesburg and eventually marrying social worker Winnie Madikezla (Naomie Harris) after leaving his first wife (Terry Pheto). Driven to speak out against injustice, Nelson becomes an activist, eventually being sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island after the ANC turn to violence.

While her husband is in jail, Winnie becomes increasingly involved in the violence of the ANC, which leads to her own arrest in 1970. And in the 1980s, though still technically in prison, Mandela enters into peace process negotiations with government figures before finally being released in 1990, whereupon he becomes the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994.

The Good
Elba does a decent job of Mandela's accent and nails the key speech-making scenes, but he looks too physically imposing for the part and it's difficult to sympathise with him when he constantly looks like he could beat the hell out of everyone he comes into contact with. By contrast, Harris delivers a complex, layered performance as Winnie and the script, commendably, doesn't shy away from her own shady political activities.

On top of that, the detail on the production design work is excellent and the film is beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer Lol Crawley. There's also a suitably epic score by Alex Heffes, in case the 132 minute running time wasn't enough to make you realise you were watching an epic.

The Bad
The main problem is the script, which settles for a straightforward trawl through Mandela's life, dutifully ticking off all the right boxes along the way but failing to engage on an emotional level. Most surprisingly of all, the film fails to make any emotional capital out of Mandela's eventual release, a sequence that in another director's hands would surely have been a three-hanky blub-fest.

On top of that, the film gives Elba a laughably terrible make-up job for the latter part of the film – indeed, it's so bad that it often looks half-finished. Either way, it's extremely distracting and completely takes you out of every scene in which it appears.

Worth seeing?
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is never less than watchable thanks to solid performances and detailed production design work, but it does feel a bit Nelson-by-numbers and oddly fails to pay off its big emotional moments.

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (M)
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Content updated: 16/06/2019 11:54

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