Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Director: Justin Chadwick
Writer: William Nicholson
Based on: Nelson Mandela‘s autobiography
Cast: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Zolani Mkiva, Simo Mogwaza

Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba) is an up and coming lawyer in South Africa – or as up and coming as a black guy can be under apartheid. Bit by bit, though, he is drawn into the political movement. Supported by his second wife Winnie (Naomie Harris) he becomes a leader and instigator and is finally arrested. But even when he’s in prison, he still serves as a symbol for the revolution.

Mandela is not a particularly good film, despite the excellent performances and the interesting topic. The script lacks coherence, the pacing is off and it’s just really, really long.


The film is not all bad. I appreciated the fact that they didn’t try and gloss over the fact that Nelson Mandela behaved like an ass most of the time, especially when it came to the women in his life. Idris Elba really was excellent. He really managed to make you understand why people would follow Mandela, oozing charisma at every turn. But the real star of the film was Naomie Harris and with her Winnie Mandela. That was one hell of a performance and one hell of a woman.

But that’s also where the problems with the film start: the longer it went on, the more I wanted to see a film about Winnie Mandela, not Nelson. She seemed like such an impressive woman. Not always making the best decisions, but intelligent, passionate, outspoken. And when he was in prison, it was her who kept the movement going. And her story shines through every once in a while in the film, but that just means it becomes one huge tease of the film I wanted to see.


But it wasn’t just my interest in Winnie (and lack of interest in Nelson) that kept the film from being what it could have been. Most of the problems were in the script. It focusses a lot on the women in Nelson’s life and his affairs. But when his first wife leaves him including the kids, she’s never heard from again. And when his son later dies, I didn’t feel particularly compassionate towards him because – according to the film – he never even thought about his kids from the first marriage. (And he had two kids from the second marriage but if you watch the film, it would be a totally legitimate conclusion that he had only one daughter.) And there is one blunder like this after the other. If you want emotional impact, you have to build relationships. If you want politics, don’t spend so much time with Idris Elba fucking around (though that was generally enjoyable).

And basically the rest of the problems came from the pacing. The first half hour or so is basically fast forwarded through and it was a bit hard to keep up and then the movie slows down to basically unbearable tediousness. That’s not the way to keep anybody interested.


Summarizing: Can be skipped.

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