If there ever was a poignant, bittersweet moment in film during 2013, it would be the Royal Film Performance of this feature. As the cast and crew were watching their endeavours – the portrayal of a man, who made his mark in history – Nelson Mandela passed away due to a long spell of illness. So, viewing a film about his life is enough to pull the heartstrings of even the most skeptical viewer.
Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom is the adaptation based on his 1995 autobiographical book. The film charts the early political beginnings of Mandela (played by Idris Elba), leading his incarceration and his involvement to abolish apartheid in South Africa, before becoming the country’s first black President.
Even though the making of the film dates back to 2009 when Mandela awarded the rights to producer Anant Singh, the film had 33 initial drafts as well as a monumental task to find the right actor to play such an iconic person. However, with the end result gaining the personal support of Mandela’s family promoting the film, it is already being deemed the ‘definitive biopic’ of Mandela – a title that is hard to contend.
First of all, this is a biopic film and with most biopics, it falls into a trap of long narrative. At 146 minutes and with a similar storytelling manner as Lincoln, it seems like that the film concentrates on steady streams of dialogue rather than powerful scenes to make an impact – moving speeches, conversations and verbal confrontations are plentiful in Mandela but it still feels like there is not enough to fully engage the viewer.
The pacing slows down dramatically halfway through, so there is an initial thrill of seeing Mandela becoming an ambitious political figurehead. But as his character is jailed and his journey turns towards him transforming into an influential peacekeeper, this obvious intimidation and strength behind Mandela dwindles, kicking in a side of the story that almost struggles under its commitment to honour him.
However, Director Chadwick indeed makes the film look good in its sun-kissed glory and consistently instills the importance Mandela played in politics, while the performances from both Idris and Naomie Harris, who plays his former wife Winnie, are nothing short of inspired. Idris shows depth in comparison to the tough-guy persona from his other films, and Harris is equally impressive and determined as Winnie – both showing that they both have the talent to pull off two roles that others may see as intimidating.
Overall, Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom is determined to celebrate the man through film and the lead performances are impressive, but its slightly overlong running time and inconsistent pacing makes it feel like a very slow walk to freedom.
Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom is out in UK cinemas on Friday 3rd January 2014.
Director: Justin Chadwick
Writers: William Nicholson (screenplay), Nelson Mandela (autobiography)
Stars: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto
Runtime: 139 min
Country: UK, South Africa