Unexpectedly timed so close to the former South African president’s death, ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ recalls the life of the revolutionary, from his days of radicalism to his election as President. The film is based on Mandela’s autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and is directed by ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ director Justin Chadwick.
Idris Elba brings his strong presence and an equally strong performance to the political figure. The film’s beginning traces back to Mandela’s childhood where he lived in a village with his family, then makes a giant leap forward to the beginning of his career as a lawyer. Rather than painting Mandela’s picture just as a hero of the anti-apartheid movement, Mandela’s darker sides are put on display as well. In between strategies of activism, Mandela fools around with various women who want the attention of Johannesburg’s new rising star, even once he’s married to his first wife Evelyn Mase.
Around this time, Mandela and his fellow activists – who formerly rallied against violent protest – began resorting to more violent acts of radicalism, as violence towards black South Africans from white South African government officials became widespread and more horrific. His first marriage falls apart, because he becomes so preoccupied with the movement (and being unfaithful) that he is rarely ever present at their home, he meets Winnie Madikizela. Played by Naomie Harris, the social worker is wooed by Mandela, and then becomes his wife as well as an important ally and figure of the anti-apartheid movement.
Naomie Harris is captivating as Winnie Mandela, laying out her anger and pain at her government on the screen, especially after Nelson is imprisoned for his infamous 27 year sentence. With her anger, she takes a different approach in the movement by encouraging the public to take a more radical stance in opposition to the government, while Nelson still believed in the power of peaceful protest.
These conflicting stances – along with their separation during his imprisonment and Winnie’s infidelity – pulled their marriage apart, a fact which the film unfortunately doesn’t give much time to flesh out. In fact, the film is choppy in its depiction of Mandela, skimming over many periods of his life. Perhaps it’s for good reason as it helps avoid what other biopics can be guilty of: fabricating those in-between moments with that have little factual basis. But the film seems to assume that you already know too much about Mandela’s life. It makes up for its downfalls with superb acting by Elba and Harris.