Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) Film Review

People learn to hate, they can be taught to love.

I am filled with so many raw emotions right now. I write this review fresh from watching this fabulous film, and it certainly is a long, emotional walk. Justin Chadwick’s biographical masterpiece is an adaptation of the 1995 book Long Walk to Freedom, written by Nelson Mandela himself.

The film chronicles Mandela’s journey from Johannesburg lawyer, to peaceful protester, courageous revolutionary and back again, concluding in his elder years with his election as the first black president of South Africa. It is an incredible story, and the movie despite its lengthiness, is paced quite well. Emotional hooks occur at regular intervals between the quiet moments of conversation, where viewers are left to contemplate the complex racial issues that underlie the violence in South African Streets. All in all expect to shed tears, both of incredible joy and despair.

Idris Elba, who you may know from the Thor movies, snapped up the title role making a very impressive performance as Nelson Mandela. His acting was convincing. On the screen we see a man resolving to forgive his oppressors rather than descend into hatred for the many injustices he has been subjected to. He speaks with a screen presence, demanding undivided attention in the many speeches he gives at various stages of his performance. The same is true of his body language. In the scenes where he is silent, the audience is never left in the dark as to what Mandela is thinking, a great feat from an actor.
Mandela (Elba) is released

I applaud the great chemistry between Elba and Naomie Harris. Their relationship feels real in the true essence of the word. They are a husband and a wife, a father and a mother. This is Winnie Mandela’s story just as much as it is Nelson’s. We see their relationship blossom in its early years, and are treated to a picture of the love and happiness they shared, until Nelson’s imprisonment. One of Harris’ most impressive moments was her dignified and defiant walk through the crowd of slandering white women to the court house. I could feel both her anger, and her fear for what was to come. Her first visit to the prison is heartbreaking. Forbidden to touch they are divided by a glass panel, which is abruptly interrupted when the conversation sways briefly to politics.
Mandela (Elba) and Winnie (Harris)

Here I believe is a significant turning point in their relationship. The injustices Winnie suffers on the outside while Nelson is in prison harden her to the point of no return. She is angry, and determined for revenge. I think if you have seen the film you will agree that this is understandably so. While Nelson believes that peace is the way forward, Winnie promotes warfare in the streets, to fight for what is right rather than a continuous stalemate dialogue. I found this transformation in Winnie Mandela to be the most realistic and powerful acting in the film.
Winnie (Harris)

While the acting was brilliant, I must comment on the makeup department. Nelson aged realistically throughout the 50 or so years covered by the movie. Great job makeup department! Winnie however aside from her hairstyle hardly changed a bit. The makeup department must have been at lunch for those scenes.

Before I sign off, I want to briefly comment on the themes of the film. It is clearly a story of freedom, endurance through injustice and fighting for what you believe in. There is however a deeper message here. One person is small when facing something like a governmental power. Many people, when they work together, can create change, and can achieve a lasting victory.


Check out the trailer below: