Mandela : Long Walk To Freedom is a 2013 British-South African biographical film based on the 1995 autobiographical book Long Walk to Freedom by anti-apartheid revolutionary and former South African President Nelson Mandela. The movie stars Idris Elba and Naomi Harris as Nelson & Winnie Mandela respectively and is directed by Justin Chadwick.
The film focuses on Mandela’s life, showing snippets of his life as a young boy and then a lawyer in the black society of South Africa under apartheid. His first marriage failed due to his infidelities and his wife left him and took their only son with them. Later he met and fell in love with Winnie while he started getting recognized as an anti-apartheid activist and she would soon pick up the fight for freedom as well. The movie shows several scenes of white brutality over the black majority starting with the police beating up of a young man, who was returning home drunk from a bar and didn’t have his papers with him, leading to his death.
Mandela becomes a leader for his people and is looked upon for his guidance and knowledge of the law. There is a scene in the beginning of the movie in which he is able to get a case of thievery dismissed for his client because the white mistress she was working for refused to answer the questions from a black attorney. Mandela is seen as preferring a non-violent movement against the injustice and apartheid but the ANC resorts to blowing up offices and buildings in retaliation for several acts of brutality from the authorities. The last straw was when the police fired guns killing several unarmed protestors who were burning the mandatory passports for all black Africans in South Africa. In 1963 Mandela was arrested along with other ANC leaders and post a trial is sentenced to life imprisonment in Robben Island where the jailors initially told him that he would never leave. The prison conditions are pathetic and inhumane, Mandela’s tall frame is assigned a cramped bed on the floor too short for him. The ANC leaders spend several years in jail there, doing hard manual labour but still protesting as much as possible. Winnie comes to see him and much later, after she turns 16, so does his elder daughter. He was only allowed one visitor and one letter every 6 months.
The movie also focuses on Winnie’s life after Mandela was imprisoned. Thrown into politics by circumstances she continues her husband’s work and is arrested, tortured and made to suffer long durations of isolated confinement in jails. She reacts violently when the cops search her bedroom and takes her away from her children and her path for the freedom struggle is a different one. Whereas Mandela still preached non-violence, toward the later part of the movie we see Winnie supporting the people’s anger and need to display that by fighting back with guns and other weapons and in one case, the beating and torture of blacks who they consider to be collaborators. Mandela’s stature as a political leader manages to grow even during the years in prison and the government under F W De Klerk is forced to negotiate with him. Mandela is granted a more lenient imprisonment, taken to a house to meet with some men and later with De Klerk. He and his fellow ANC leaders are taken to a newer & cleaner prison on the main land where they can be in the same large cell but it is also a means for the government to spy on them and listen to their conversations. Refusing to just get a share of the power, Mandela is later allowed to live in a home with relative comfort and a cook to prepare his meals in 1988 and he was allowed to be visited by his extended family.
In 1990, after 27 years, he was finally a free man but his relationship with Winnie had clearly been stained to the point of no return. She had become a powerful figure herself but was more angry and leaned toward retaliation with weapons. They separated in 1992 due to their differences as well as her having taken other lovers (shown in the movie as only photographs of her going out with another man) and divorced in 1996. The movie ends with Mandela’s electoral victory and being sworn in as president in 1994. The movie fails to ignite much emotion and reaction from the viewers. I did not like the pacing of the film and felt that they needed to focus on less events. I also am not a big fan of Idris Elba and did not like his delivery style which sounded odd. Naomi Harris is however superb as Winnie and delivers a passionate and fiery performance. I can see why the movie failed to do well at the box office. I’d give it a 7 outta 10!