STORY: Nelson Mandela walked a long, hard path – how did the world join him?
REVIEW: Straight away, Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom shows you an icon in a whole new light. Many know about Nelson Mandela’s fight against South Africa’s apartheid, his imprisonment for decades, his faith in non-violence. While this film shows all that, it also shows more, capturing a man who began as deeply confused, full of conflicts and charm, gravity and fun.
It is as Nelson Mandela moves from being an upcoming lawyer in 1940s Johannesburg, full of jazz bars and pretty girls, courts and cruel cops, a friend telling Mandela he’s becoming a man to watch, to the wry rejoinder, “Maybe I should sell tickets” – to an African National Congress member, addressing demos and blowing up plants, that his character evolves. We then see Mandela grow into the Madiba the world knows. Along the way, Mandela loses more than his freedom.
Fed up by his philandering, his first wife leaves. His mother is furious while he struggles between pleasures and principles. When Mandela meets Winnie, a tough social worker, his identity becomes sharply defined. He goes from being a light-hearted seeker of joys to a fully determined fighter against apartheid. Mandela and his associates are imprisoned for life – but battling solitude and savagery, Mandela grows larger than life. This fast-moving film extends beyond one icon.
Alongside Mandela, it follows the anti-apartheid movement itself, from peaceful boycotts to blowing offices up, terrible civil war and a return to peace. It captures the tremendous romance of Africa, its gold-pink vistas as beautiful as blush, its rhythms, vibes and colourful tribes. And it presents fabulous performances. Naomie Harris is brilliant as Winnie Mandela, capturing her seething trauma – imprisoned and tortured, Winnie’s “Don’t touch me” to a policeman chills – her insistence on violent revenge, and her break-up with Madiba.
Alongside, Idris Elba’s Mandela towers gracefully, full of complexity, yet simple enough to emphasise you cannot hate another without hating yourself. The camerawork skillfully captures individuals and crowds while the soundtrack, from jazz to Bob Marley, makes you live the world’s energy to free Mandela. Watch this – while making you laugh and cry, it takes you on a wondrous walk