The death of one of the great people of the twentieth century, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela (1918–2013), had mixed consequences to the movie based on his life: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
His death after a long illness came just before the movie’s London premier, and the resulting eulogies, funeral, and television specials provided serendipitous publicity. At the same time, however, the unceasing attention may have satiated many people’s desire to see and learn more about such an inspiring life.
Mandela is very good, but it is difficult for a movie to do justice to a life that, on a 4-point scale, was a 5. A movie does, however, have a significant advantage over a documentary film: It can recreate important scenes for which there are no film clips; it can show rather than tell, and this is one of many strengths of Mandela.
This cinemagraphic recreation of Mandela’s actual autobiography is therefore an excellent way to experience the man’s life. We are with him as he becomes, in turn, a boy playing African “warrior,” a young boxer, a family man, a lawyer, an anti-apartheid leader and an insurrectionist convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, then on to his 27 years as a political prisoner and eventually a free man, due in part to the efforts of individuals around the world.
Although actor Idris Elba does not much resemble Nelson Mandela physically (a fact some reviewers found a stumbling block), he nevertheless captured the great man’s passion, personal charm, and stature (literally and figuratively). He brings to life many great moments, as when Mandela addresses his people, who were turning away from turning the other cheek. As their leader, he said, he had to tell them the truth—that “we cannot win a war, but we can win an election.”
It’s a tribute to the followers that they trusted him, electing Nelson Mandela president of South Africa and showing the world how to rise above vengeance to reach forgiveness. Thus he led the way to protecting the white minority and so saving South Africa as a country. Mandela is that story.
Rating: Three and a half wooden nickels (out of four)