Title: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Director: Justin Chadwick
Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris
Country of Origin: South Africa
The long-awaited Anant Singh movie has finally premiered in South Africa, but only after international media and the White House crowd have already seen it.
I joined the throngs of people eager to see it, fully expecting to hate it, after all who can ever do justice to our wonderful Madiba, either in recreating his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, or by portraying him? I not only did not hate the movie, I actually loved it. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why the world focused in on Nelson Mandela rather than Oliver Tambo or any of the other struggle heroes for the outpouring of adulation and admiration. The “Free Mandela” campaign never became the “Free Tambo” campaign. This movie does nothing to explain this, but it captures admirably the likeability, the humanity (or the spirit of ubuntu), of Nelson Mandela. Mandela, whatever his failings, is always courteous, clever and charming.
The movie is historically accurate, true to the book (despite needing to cut huge sections down drastically, of course) and as perfectly charming as its hero. Idris Elba does a fine job of portraying Mandela and many people are expecting an Oscar nomination for him, but in my opinion Naomie Harris is the one who steals the show as she captures the role of Winnie Mandela. Winnie Mandela holds a special place in the hearts and memory of the South African people. Throughout the years that Nelson Mandela was in prison she was the only link the people had with him and this movie captures poignantly the many difficulties of her life at that time, even though overall history (and this movie) has judged her harshly.
The movie, predictably in view of the length of Long Walk to Freedom, is long by today’s standards at 146 minutes (over two hours), but the time zipped by quickly and I was amazed to note afterwards just how long it had been. If one is inclined to become a little emotional in movies I would recommend taking a packet of facial tissues. I became teary at several points during the movie.
The timing of the release of the movie is also fortuitous as its hero lies in what is described by South African officialdom as a “critical but stable” condition in an ICU ward created for him in his Houghton home.
This movie will go on to become a classic, a copy living on shelves (or, I suppose these days, hard drives) all over the world. It will become a classic not so much because it is great, but simply because it encapsulates, in one easy chunk, fifty years in the life of a man who made his mark on his country and the world. As such, of course, it will always have inadequacies, but the whole is gratifying and well worth the effort of seeing it on the big screen.