Review: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Idris Elba & Naomie Harris

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is absolutely inspiring and features outstanding performances from Idris Elba and Naomie Harris.

The film is based on Nelson Mandela’s own autobiography. It was directed by Justin Chadwick from a script written by William Nicholson.

Spoilers ahead.

While Mandela is not painted as perfect, he is definitely shown as heroic. Which is okay – Nelson Mandela is a towering world figure and a hero to millions.

The film covers decades. It begins with Mandela (Idris Elba) as a young lawyer with a wife and a young son and a growing interest in the African National Congress. As he grows more politically active he is away from home more and more. And he is unfaithful. His wife leaves him.

Mandala is sentenced to life in prison
Nelson reaches out to his wife Winnie after he is sentenced to life in prison rather than execution.

We see how his political views grow and change, his embrace of violence as an acceptable form of protest before his arrest, and finally his arrest. His second wife, Winnie (Naomie Harris), joins him in his revolutionary struggle. By the time of his arrest he was a leader revered by his fellow Africans.

Mandala in prison
Mandela continued to fight even in prison. The first battle he waged was for long trousers instead of the demeaning short pants.

I have walked a long walk to freedom. It has been a lonely road, and it is not over yet. I know that my country, was not made to be a land of hatred. No one is born hating another person because the color of his skin. People learn to hate. They can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.
– Nelson Mandela
The story shows not only what the conditions in prison were like, but also what was happening with Mandela’s wife, Winnie and the two daughters he had with her. Winnie becomes a strong leader in her own right while Nelson is in prison.

The story details the changing climate in South Africa, with actual newsreel footage of the protests against apartheid from around the world. It shows the slow negotiations and efforts to get Mandela released from prison. It shows the election that made Mandela South Africa’s leader. The film stops with his first day in office.

Idris Elba aged decades in the film, yet he beautifully captured Nelson Mandela. Unless you’ve made a study of Nelson Mandela already, you will learn new things about him and about Winnie in the film. You get a sense of the pain and sacrifice and struggle they endured for decades. You glimpse the growth and determination of this brilliant, courageous and heroic man.

The 2013 film showed up on Netflix as a new arrival. It is most likely available on other streaming services now as well.

The Trailer

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