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Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

"It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Any film that tries to encompass most of Nelson Mandela’s long life carries an enormous burden of expectation. How can one film do the man justice? And in attempting to do so, how can it be vital and compelling rather than merely well-meaning and didactic? Mandela confronts these problems and, after a faintly unsure start, manages to rise above them. It certainly helps to have a charismatic actor in the lead role, and those who recall Idris Elba’s stellar turn as Stringer Bell in ‘The Wire’ will know he fits the bill. Dashing and physically imposing as the younger man, Elba’s body language relaxes as Mandela ages; he seems to acquire wisdom and gravitas along with whitening hair and a shuffling gait. Mandela’s rural Xhosa roots are deftly touched upon, along with his career as a fiery young lawyer. Then comes his gradual radicalisation – joining the ANC, rising fast through its ranks, and initially preaching non-violence. His subsequent change of heart, inspired by outrages against black South Africans, lands him in jail, where he stayed for 27 years. The tone of these earlier scenes is generally respectful, but not blindly so: the break-up of Mandela’s first marriage to Evelyn Mase (Terry Pheto) does not portray him in a kindly light. But the film moves into a high gear with the arrival of Naomie Harris as the assured, feisty Winnie Mandela. There’s genuine chemistry between her and Elba, which has a melancholy payoff later on: their long separation drives them apart as the older Mandela, conciliatory and more forgiving, incurs the displeasure of his staunchly radical wife. After so much exposition, up to his incarceration on Robben Island, the film takes a thoughtful, analytical turn, as Mandela and his colleagues debate their future and that of their country. Still, the film gathers dramatic pace as Mandela’s release comes closer and apartheid starts to crumble. Director Justin Chadwick likes to bathe South Africa in a honeyed light, and occasionally his scenes depicting inequality and state violence feel strained and too obvious. Yet with the magnificent Elba to anchor it, the film gradually achieves a sort of grandeur, in the manner of the hero it depicts. – David Gritten, The Daily TelegraphOfficial Trailer
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Directed by: 
Justin Chadwick
Running Time: 
141
Language: 
English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa with English subtitles
Starring: 
Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Terry Pheto
Screenplay by: 
Screenplay by: William Nicholson Based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography The Long Walk To Freedom

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