<img src='http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site36/2013/1224/20131224__20131225_C3_AE25SCMANDELA~p1.jpg' width='200px' alt='Idris Elba and Naomie Harris portray Nelson and Winnie Mandela in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
Again, you believe her. We get to know Mandela as an engaging young lawyer, reluctant to attend an African National Congress meeting. As he becomes more involved in the struggle, his worried mother, Nosekeni (an affecting Zikhona Sodlaka), makes no secret of her disapproval. His first marriage fails. Mandela’s lovely courtship with Winnie culminates in a traditional wedding in tribal dress. This dreamlike moment gives way to scenes of the shocking Sharpeville massacre in 1960, when police mowed down 69 people. Soon, activist Mandela is on the run. His famous trial, with the masses gathered outside, is well captured here. As the world knows, Mandela and his co-defendants were sentenced to life in prison, and his next 27 years were spent there, 18 of them at the forbidding Robben Island. “You will never touch a woman or a child again,” a prison official tells Mandela. “You will die here.” Everyone watching the film will know this isn’t true.
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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom review – Idris Elba in earnest biopic
Watching the extraordinary facts of Nelson Mandela‘s life played out on screen will always be fascinating, and the conventional approach taken here is understandable if ultimately disappointing – you can sense at every turn the filmmakers’ reluctance to risk overshadowing their subject. Despite being adapted from Mandela’s autobiography, which gives the film its subtitle, William Nicholson’s screenplay is almost entirely devoid of psychological introspection, leaving Idris Elba to give a charismatic and physically nuanced performance that still feels emotionally undernourished. Mandela’s lesser-known early life as an ambitious young lawyer in Johannesburg offers up some of the film’s most compelling notes – the portrayal initially seems promisingly grey, as the young Mandela is shown as both a womaniser and an abusive husband to first wife Evelyn (Terry Pheto). But these early years are dispensed with too swiftly, with an increasingly disillusioned Mandela spouting clunky moralistic soundbites (“This is not law!”) as he rises to prominence within the revolutionary African National Congress. What Chadwick deals well with is the big picture, the broad strokes, and the notable historical turning points – including the Sharpeville Massacre which drives Mandela and his fellow dissidents to escalate from peaceful protesting to violence – are drawn in vivid, wrenching detail. “Elba is magnetic throughout, giving a consistently detailed performance that subtly reflects the personal toll Mandela’s long walk has taken on him.” The introduction of Naomie Harris as Mandela’s spirited second wife Winnie provides a crucial injection of warmth and humanity in what otherwise becomes a by-rote portrayal of the facts, as Mandela is finally arrested and jailed for 27 years. We still understand next to nothing about him as a character by this stage, but Elba and Harris together spark up something that feels more textured, and the growing gulf between them as their ideologies shift through the years is poignantly drawn. Elba is magnetic throughout, giving a consistently detailed performance that subtly reflects the personal toll Mandela’s long walk has taken on him. Nonetheless, he remains an unknowable character, held reverentially at arm’s length by Nicholls’s script despite the intermittent willingness to depict his flaws. It’s often said that the most successful biopics are those that cover a selective portion of a life rather than attempting a cradle-to-grave chronicle, and here the sheer weight of the years is palpable.
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‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ review: Biopic does justice to the late freedom fighter
displayComments:true! Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom review: Biopic does justice to the late freedom fighter Idris Elba, left, stars in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, a biopic about the South African leader that does a worthy job of honoring both its subject and its audience. (Photo by Keith Bernstein) By Stephanie Merry , E-mail the writer The pitfalls of making biopics are manifold, from the trap of hero worship to the more pressing matter of distilling something as unwieldy as a persons life into two hours. Those potential problems are magnified when the movie is about Nelson Mandela