So today, the second Politic-a-thon starts with the most recent politically themed film to come out, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. This film is a bit tricky to talk about. Originally it was slated to be another Oscar season biopic but then, on the night of the London premiere, Nelson Mandela died turning this film into a tribute to Mandela. This puts an even greater amount of pressure onto the film. Thankfully, the film pays off and is a brilliantly executed tribute to Mandela with an outstanding central performance by Idris Elba.
The plot of the film focuses on the life of Nelson Mandela, from his beginnings as a lawyer in Johannesburg to his involvement with the ANC’s protests, both violent and non-violent, to his time in prison and his eventual release. Alongside the story of Mandela, we also see what happened to his second wife Winnie during this time. Whilst the trailers made it look like the focus was on Mandela’s early life, the majority of the film covers Mandela’s time in prison, mainly the 18 years he spent on Robben Island with other members of the ANC and this part of the film is easily the highlight of the film with great reconstructions of all the prisons that Mandela spent time in, mainly the brutal way his time in Robben Island is portrayed. The film also gives a great, albeit a bit too brief, look into why Mandela turned to first peaceful then violent protest in order to ensure black rights in South Africa and there were a few points in the film in which I was a bit ashamed to be European, mainly the scene at the train station. The stuff with Winnie meanwhile shows the harassment she received from the White authorities whilst Mandela was in prison and there were some parts of her story I didn’t know before, mainly that she spent 16 months in solitary confinement and throughout this, the fact that Mandela chooses to go down the peaceful route after spending so many years in prison is incredible. If there is a problem with the story it’s that the later years of Mandela in prison feel a bit rushed and, as a result, I really feel that this should have been done as a mini-series instead of a film in order for every aspect of Mandela’s life to be given focus.
The main aspect of the film that works though are the performances. Idris Elba is brilliant as Mandela. Whilst the make-up to age him at the end of the film doesn’t really work, he still gives a brilliant performance. He really brings across the anger that Mandela has over the situation in South Africa and his desire to help people whilst also making it so his transition towards a more peaceful method is really natural. There’s also this great presence that Elba has where you always pay attention to him whenever he speaks and for playing someone like Nelson Mandela it’s important to have this. As Winnie Mandela meanwhile, Naomi Harris does a really good job. She brings across a great deal of the anger she feels over her treatment and the pain over what is happening to her, the chemistry that she and Elba have is brilliant and she really shows why Winnie turned more towards violence that the peaceful method that Mandela turns to. The other cast members also do a really good job but fall into the background a lot of the time but this does work as it helps the film put its focus on where it should be, on Nelson and Winnie Mandela.
Overall, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a really good film. Whilst I think the ideal format for this would have been something like a HBO mini-series and a lot of the cast feel a bit wasted, the main element that the film needed to get right, it gets incredibly right with Idris Elba giving an outstanding performance as Nelson Mandela helping this film provide a fitting tribute to the man.
My Rating: 4/5