Review of the film “Mandela: a long road to freedom”
Movies about great people tend to be, well, not that great. If you are still excited about the Oscar Gandhi, my excuses. I’m not. There is this rush to get it all in so that essential elements of characterization that often lie on the fringes are overlooked or ignored altogether. But don’t throw away Mandela: long march to freedom on the scrap heap for now. The biopic plague definitely afflicts this respectful and almost canonical look at the life of Nelson Mandela, elected president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 after serving 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid policies. But adapting Madela’s autobiography for the screen, director Justin Chadwick (The other Boleyn girl) and screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator) was lucky enough to find a hell of an actor to play it. Idris Elba, the British producer, musician, rapper, DJ (as DJ Big Driis) and talented actor who won justifiable praise as drug lord Stringer Bell on Thread and as an obsessed BBC sleuth Luther, seizes the role like one possessed. It’s a mind-blowing performance. Elba might not look like the man he plays, but he gets the right details, from the singing accent and artful fire-firing imagery for the change that drives him. Actors, from Morgan Freeman to Danny Glover, have played Mandela. But Elba, 41, brings out the vigor and strength of his youth as a Johannesburg lawyer, activist, lover and first actor in the African National Congress. This is where Mandela meets his first wife, Evelyn Mase (Terry Pheto). But it’s her second marriage to social worker Winnie Madikizela (Naomie Harris) that catches our attention. Harris, who starred in Chadwick’s underrated film The first grader and played Daniel Craig’s new Moneypenny to James Bond in Fall from the sky, digs out the role, even when the script doesn’t. Winnie’s radicalization deserved more screen time. But we see his power through the ferocity and sentiment Harris brings to the role. Mandela: long march to freedom is a long slog from a movie that insists on reaching the top as a Wiki page, which leaves little room to investigate the political and personal changes that have altered Mandela’s thoughts on violence and its uses. But in those moments when Elbe shows the doubts, compromises and complications that make up a man, we glimpse a life truly lived.