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When it comes to creating a film about someone’s life, filmmakers always have a tough task ahead of them. But when it comes to making a film about one of the most well respected, influential world leaders ever, the pressure is intensified a hundred fold. The story of Nelson Mandela’s life is one of a long struggle for equality in apartheid South Africa beginning in the 1940′s. And it is safe to say this film does follow the entire story in some form or another from the beginning of his adulthood.
However, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, is 630 pages long, and the film tries to cover more than 50 years of Mandela’s life and South African history. A prisoner, a statesman, a hero over a period of 80 years; Madiba’s story does not fit a three-act structure. It’s an impossible task. At times the film jumps almost a decade in one go, which doesn’t help to build the impression of just how long Mandela was imprisoned for and the critical changes and developments in South Africa’s political climate owing to his influence. I really think the film would have benefitted from telling the story over two films perhaps. Not only would this have allowed more time to develop principal characters, it would have allowed more time to explore the political changes in South Africa which were so crucial in shaping these lives.
In some ways it’s a shame because there was so much to like in the long awaited biopic. Idris Elba is, on all accounts, superb as Mandela carrying an elegant dignity throughout, even when he is nullified by his aging makeup – one of the major disappointments of the $35 million picture. Supporting Elba is Naomie Harris who performs with real fire and bite and insightfully demonstrates the true power and resilience of Mandela’s second wife, Winnie. Her depicted transformation from a quiet, polite young woman to that of a leader of people in her own right demonstrates how capable she is a film actress. Her success in landing the role of the new Moneypenny in the Bond franchise is a hopeful prediction of her future numerous accomplishments on the big screen.
Like with most biopics there’s an overwhelming atmosphere of history coming to life when watching the film in a sizeable theatre. Looking back, the beauty, delicacy and often shiver-inducing powerful moments of ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ seem overshadowed with the feeling that writer William Nicholson and director Justin Chadwick have truly tried to cram too much life into one short movie. The elements of terrorism committed by Mandela and his comrades unfortunately seem brushed over thus causing the film to appear very one sided. Still, the film gets 4 out of 5 stars for proving a good solid biography about a very important man of South African past and present. The breath taking sweeping camera shots of the South African terrain doesn’t hurt either.