It was Shakespeare who wrote “Some men are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Well, all three statements are true of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid protester who became the first black President of South Africa and a role model for millions of people all over the world.
When he passed at the end of last year, the film based on his best-selling book Long Walk to Freedom was premiering as the news broke, which was a rather tragic coincidence that almost set the film up for further scrutiny now the great man himself was no longer around.
The film drives you through the milestones of Mandela’s life with snippets on his childhood and fledgling law career as well as a snapshot of his first marriage to Evelyn. The film really picks up, though, when Mandela meets his second wife Winnie – and the scenes featuring his arrest, imprisonment and ultimate release are obviously engaging. It’s the middle of the movie where things start to unravel a bit.
Now when I say unravel, I don’t mean in a terrible, unwatchable way. But sometimes, it’s hard to tell whose story you’re supposed to be watching, as the focus seems to be on Winnie: her story, struggle, and eventual downfall. She was and is a complicated, flawed and interesting character, and there’s no doubt that she’s a vital component of the Mandela story, but sometimes it did feel that the film focused on her a little too much. With so much to cover with the man himself, time could have been put to better use padding out the nuances of his story, which felt slightly rushed in some respects.
Saying that, though, Naomie Harris is spectacular as Winnie Mandela and her descent from infatuated young woman to hardened political protester who ended up going against the peaceful outlook of her husband is fascinating to watch. The anguish and change that Harris portrays as the movie progresses is exceptional.
Nothing, however, can take the shine off Idris Elba’s performance, which is astounding. Mandela has been represented on screen many times, but this was the first time I bought the representation 100%. The body language, voice and make-up were all spot on. When I asked my husband, who is from South Africa, his thoughts after we watched the film, even he was surprised at how well Elba knocked it out of the park. To take on such a well known and loved person must have weighed heavy, but not an ounce of it showed on screen and I would recommend watching even if it is just for the master class in acting which radiates from this London boy.
The story of Mandela’s life is something that even the most talented of Hollywood writers would find difficult to think up and so trying to fit it into a two hour film was always going to be a challenge. Although the movie itself gives you a great overview of how he became and man the world ended up respecting for his vigour and hopefulness, you almost wish it was longer to take more detailed and in-depth look at how he truly became the father of a nation.
The Blu-ray comes with a feature commentary with director Justin Chadwick; a very interesting little documentary Mandela – The Leader You Know, The Man You Didn’t which features interviews and behind the scenes footage; and a couple of featurettes around production design, costume and make-Up, music and sound, and special effects. Plus there’s the a theatrical trailer.
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