03rd May2014

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – DVD

by timbaros

images-54I really would’ve liked to have said that Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the new film based on the book by the late Nelson Mandela, is an excellently filmed tribute to the former South African and African National Congress President who passed away in early December. For what it is, it is a very good film that tries it’s hardest to capture the amazing life of Madiba, but it misses the mark.

Mandela, was was born in 1918 and who died on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at the age of 97, lived a life so unlike any other. The film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, attempts to capture this life, a life that begun as a young boy, running around in the fields of Africa, to becoming a lawyer in his 20’s, to his coming of age and into the world of politics in Johannesburg in 1942, to meeting and divorcing his first wife Evelyn and then meeting a woman who could match his every step – Winnie, to his 27 years in prison, including 18 in Robben Island. And then triumphantly being released from prison in 1991, to being elected President of South Africa in 1994. This is a lot for any movie to cover, and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom tries to cover it all, but it is just too much and thereby dilutes the amazing and powerful life of Mandela.
Idris Elba is Mandela, who plays him as a young man in his twenties and then as a man in his 90’s. Elba as the younger Mandela looks a bit too old to be playing someone that young, with so much energy and so much passion. He gets more believable and into character once the story kicks in as Mandela rises to power in the ANC as they attempt to get the South African government to get rid of apartheid. Winnie, played by a spectacular Naomi Harris, stands by his side the whole time, trying to maintain a house while raising two girls, yet the fire for their struggle within them flames. Through the ANC training camps and safehouses, leading the ANC to a path of violence, blowing up buildings and rampaging through the streets, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is powerful when it tells of these early days in Mandela’s life. There is also amazing real footage of some of the uprisings that took place during that time, with many of the protestors getting killed in the process. Compelling stuff.
It was on May 27, 1963 that Mandela first set foot on Robben Island, as prisoner 46664, which would his home for the next 18 years, in a small prison cell. He is imprisoned along with other political prisoners. They talk and debate and try to survive one day at a time. In the film, we see Mandela protesting at having to wear shorts, he demands to have a pair of trousers, and demands the same for the rest of the prisoners, which they all receive, three years later. This just goes to show that he demanded respect, even in jail. In one emotional scene in the film, one of his daughters comes to visit him in jail, after not having seen each other in over ten years.
Mandela was not the only one who was imprisoned. Winnie was also taken away to prison for her political activity, and with very emotional and brutal scenes, we see Harris as Winnie get beaten up and tortured in prison, sprawled naked in a cold prison cell. Brutal stuff, and Harris is phenomenal in these scenes.
On February 11, 1990, Mandela walked out of prison and was now a free man. And then a few years later, he would become the first elected black man as President of South Africa. These moments in Mandela’s life are also two very important moments in history, yet in the film we don’t get swept, caught up, or emotional when it happen. It is all quite glossed over very quickly. A movie this big with an even bigger story to tell forgets to make these two moments emotional and unforgettable. We wait for the next big moment, the next huge emotional scene, but it never comes. So this goes back to the question: How do you tell a story in a movie of one of the greatest men who has ever lived?
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom took 15 years to get to the big screen. The writer, William Nicholson, started writing Mandela’s story in 1997, with 33 drafts, and attempted every single way to tell this story. During this time, he met almost every famous black actor for this film, some got too old to play the part of the younger Mandela, but in the end it was just too hard to nail down a big star, according to Nicholson, so Elba was chosen. Elba, not a very big star when filming commenced but well-known thanks to his television work in The Wire, does an admirable job as the greatest man in the last century. It is not Elba’s fault that the script tries to tell a story which was 630 pages in book form. It was a huge challenge for Elba to take this role. Harris, as Winnie, is undeniably the winner in the acting sweepstakes in this film. Her political speeches, her love for her husband and children, and her imprisonment would make for another movie in itself.
In the beginning of the film, Mandela says “I wanted to make my family proud of me”, well, he has made the whole world proud of him.
Can any film capture the life of Mandela? Perhaps it would’ve been best to focus on just a couple important periods in his life, and to not cover his entire life. At the end of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, we hear the voice of Elba as Mandela say “I have walked a long walk to freedom. It has been a long road but its not over yet.” Indeed, it is not over yet.