<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Justin Chadwick. Starring Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto, Robert Hobbs, Tony Kgoroge
In a way this film about the great South African leader who passed away December last year is perfect timing but time is something that doesn’t favour this rushed listing of events in a great man’s life.
We all know Nelson Mandela’ story, well at least vaguely. The man who fought against racist Apartheid in South Africa in his youth in the African National Congress (ANC) and who resorted to violence after he found peace was not moving the white overlords who trampled on the rights of the native Africans. He was caught and arrested, sentenced and spent 27 years of his life in prison till he was finally released due to political pressure and street violence demanding his freedom. How he got to the point of becoming President of South Africa is what Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom attempts to show us.
The sweet, affable and kindly Mandela we have all seen on TV isn’t the man who changed South Africa forever and gave its people their freedom. That man was in fact a womanizer who didn’t mind resorting to violence and playing a bit of politics to get his way.
In Long Walk To Freedom we are given a dutiful list of as many possible events that took place in Mandela’s life. Scene follows scene and one scene to the next may actually be a couple of years apart but we are never shown a proper timeline. So it’s a bit confusing as you see him consorting with one woman in a scene and the very next has a different woman. Of course he does get married but only to cheat on his wife and finally end with the equally famous Winnie.
And the 27 years that Mandela spends in prison are simply glossed over as almost inconsequential. Perhaps they were, I don’t know. But surely he did a bit more than just winning the black prisoner’s right to wear long pants (only white prisoners could wear long pants and the blacks wore shorts) and grow tomatoes.
Idris Elba as Mandela has immense presence – partly due to his 6 foot 3 stature – but after a while the accent he puts on to imitate ‘Madiba’ (the term of endearment used for Mandela and the name of his clan) becomes a bit monotonous. Naomi Harris as Winnie Mandela is quite fiery and the interplay between them is interesting but never quite satisfying.
How can the entire life of this visionary be encapsulated in one film? Director Justin Chadwick has crafted the scenes nicely and tried to make this a definitive film about the life of Mandela. But in trying to squeeze in every milestone (and there were many) he has made things look rushed and disjointed. Perhaps concentrating on one aspect or time period of Mandela’s life would have been a better idea.
But the film does show us yet again how the blacks have been treated in history. Of course we’ve come a long way from when they were relegated to being slaves, butlers, house help and segregated from the whites. We have a black President of America, an African-American TV talk show host who is one of the most influential and wealthy people on the planet and black stars in all professions who do owe a great deal to this man who fought racism with violence, peace and passion.
PS: Yes the movie is based on his autobiography.