Advance screening courtesy of Eclipse Pictures, Pathé and Fox.
The life, struggles, loves and imprisonment of the late Nelson Mandela from pre through to post-Apartheid South Africa.
Director Justin Chadwick who made the electrifying BBC series Bleak House in 2005 has created a sentimental homage to one of 20 Century’s most inspirational men but lacks the impact of that inspiration. There was a potential for this film to be as stirring as Cry Freedom but instead the first half of the film feels rushed and cluttered. Admittedly they had a lot to pack in between Mandela’s private life and his growing roles in the ANC as well as the effect of apartheid on his country. It feels like the filmmakers were trying too hard to get to his arrest and imprisonment at which point the real emotional engagement begins and perhaps some of the blame is down to the fact that Idris Elba does not look like the younger Mandela. The excellent team in the makeup department (23 people for the whole movie) do an incredible job of transforming Elba into the older and more recognisable Mandela.
Nevertheless Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) cuts a formidable figure as the law abiding solicitor from Johannesburg Nelson Mandela who is drawn into violence as the oppressive white South African authorities tighten their violent and murderous grip on him and his fellow South Africans. Elba has the presence, the charm, the voice down to a tee and his physical size and most of all the acting ability to carry the weight of Mandela on his shoulders.
Naomie Harris (Pirates of the Caribbean, Prometheus) also stands out on the role of charming and driven social worker Winnie Mandela, here the film contrasts how imprisonment has different effects people, while Mandela emerges calling for peace, Winnie emerges as an advocate of violence.
There could be an argument that larger than life figures should not be treated to biopics for the very reason that they can never be portrayed in any better light than that of reality in the same way that Mohammed Ali biopic with will Smith was somewhat of a let-down.
This is a good film but not a great one for the simple reason that it does not and perhaps cannot tell us anything new about the man and it also seems to try and rationalises Winnie Mandela’s transformation from social worker to path of violent initiator. Despite a troubled start the film does build up to a moving and triumphant finish, much like that life of the man it is portraying.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is in Irish Cinemas on January 3rd