Reviewer Daniel Janks: actor, creative director, writer, cynic, father, husband. He was born in 1977 and has still not died. He loves many things, chief among which are his mythic wife and odd girl-child. Visit his website.
Director: Justin Chadwick
Writer: William Nicholson
Cast : Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto
It’s not often that a movie comes along that I think it’s important to take your children to, but one has arrived. And your children need to see it.
Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom is the most excellent South African Film we’ve ever produced. Now people may argue that the film isn’t South African, after all it is directed by Justin Chadwick, written by William Nicholson, shot by Lol Crawley, and of course stars Idris Elba, all of whom are Brittish. But, to my mind, the film is undoubtedly South African. Not only was it produced by Anant Singh, a well known South African film producer, but is a South African project from start to finish. The project was born here, struggled to life here for close on 20 years, and came to fruition here, under the constant and vigilant care of many many people, some of whom were not South Africans, but most of whom were.
The film is excellent: it is finely written, delicately directed, superbly performed. It is a very fine film, moving in parts, fascinating in parts, compelling in parts. As the sum of its parts it is a very good movie, but in part it is also too large a film for its own good.
It seems almost needless to say, but Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom tells the story of the life of the Father of the New South Africa, Nelson Mandela. We follow his slow introduction to politics as a young lawyer, his rise to the leadership of the ANC and of Umkhonto We Sizwe, his arrest and incarceration, and his eventual release and election as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. We meet his co-conspirators, his family, his friends, his enemies and his allies. We walk the long path beside him and see a country born from many people’s struggle, and one man’s amazing capacity to forgive. The film spans five decades and covers a lot of ground. And herein lies the only rub.
The film tells too much story, and delivers too little detail. Moments that must have been tumultuous are glossed over, decisions that must have been hard-come-to seem almost flippant, and connections that must have run as deep and true as mine shafts are given too little time to take root in the audience’s mind and the film’s narrative. And while the film as a whole is superb, too many moments left me feeling desperate for more.
The acting is almost universally fantastic. Idris Elba, easily one of the finest actors of our time, delivers a subtle but starkly powerful performance. His Mandela is charming, witty, brilliant and fascinating. His portrayal of a man in a time and place all too ready to crush men, is deeply moving, yet delivered with such economy of performance and understated self awareness that it takes one’s breath away. Elba’s attention to detail in the capturing of Mandela’s very distinctive physical and vocal attributes is masterful and puts fully to shame the efforts that have come before it.
The supporting cast arrayed around him are also deeply watchable. From fellow British actor Naomi Harris to the otherwise fully South African cast, each and every character is beautifully formed and delicately delivered.
Justin Chadwick does a very good job handling the performances and nitty gritty details of what is often a complicated narrative. The pace of the film is well moderated with the narrative slowing down somewhat when necessary and moving steadily when the plot allows. The key characters, Mandela and Winnie, are portrayed in great depth and the harrowing story of Madiba’s life is told unflinchingly and is moving and meaningful.
You must see this film. It is an important story, told very well. It will prove to be a landmark film for South Africa and deserves a watch on the big screen. Go.