If only one person was allowed to have a biopic made of them for the rest of time then Nelson Mandela would be a worthy candidate. I’m also sure there will be many more interpretations of the great man’s life in the future which like this film I will look forward to with trepidation as the biopic is often a very hard genre to execute properly.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom follows Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) from when he was a young man through to his election as President in 1994. Some sections of his life are focused on more than others; the key focus for much of the film is his relationship with his second wife Winny (Naomie Harris).
I think the first thing that needs to be addressed is Elba’s performance. In short, it was fantastic. Despite not looking too similar to Mandela the rest of his performance is completely believable and genuinely moving at times. He also manages to bring Mandela’s human, flawed side out which other interpretations, most notably Morgan Freeman in Invictus, have failed to do. Most films on the subject will probably follow the convention of raising him up as a deity but I think it is important to show people at their most vulnerable as well otherwise we aren’t truly getting a story of a man’s life which to an extent this film is.
Naomie Harris is also exceptional in this film. Up to this point I hadn’t seen her in a starring role and she impressed me with her portrayal of Winny. And I may sound like I’m repeating myself but she is importantly portrayed as a woman and not just as another figurehead in the movement against apartheid. The film is also genuinely moving at times which I think is probably more down to the performances and the source material rather than anything innovative that the film.
And that is one of the main problems with this film, a total lack of innovation. The film is a by the numbers biopic which basically skips over the entire life of one of the modern world’s greatest statesmen. It is more like a cursory history lesson than a film, and cursory history lessons shouldn’t be two and a half hours long. Also, towards the end of the film the makeup used to make the once young ANC founders look old is mildly comical for the most part and genuinely broke my immersion on a couple of occasions. However, these are the only criticisms I can level at the film but I only have two things to genuinely praise the film for which is fairly indicative of how memorable this film is. Unless you really love Mandela, or Idris Elba for that matter, or you want to learn about his life then you don’t really need to watch this film.