Farewell to an Icon

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

 mandela_long_walk_to_freedom

Director: Justin Chadwick

Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Terry Pheto, Riaad Moosa, Jamie Bartlett, Deon Lotz, Seelo Maake, Garth Breytenbach, Kgosi Mongake

British born director of The Other Boleyn Girl Justin Chadwick brings to the big screen Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with the assistance of Durban based producer Anant Singh and international stars Idris Elba (Pacific Rim) and Naomie Harris (Skyfall). The timing of this film couldn’t have been more perfect or more poignant with the recent death of Nelson Mandela the Leader of the ANC and the first black South African president making international headlines. Mandela’s passing actually occurred during the British premiere of the film in London on the evening of Thursday 5th December 2013.

Leaving politics or current affairs aside, is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom worth watching? The answer is a definitive yes especially so for the generation of young South Africans that will be able to vote in the 2014 national elections. But also for those viewers who didn’t realize just how close South Africa came in the early 1990’s to a fully fledged near civil war as the leaders at the time including Mandela and F.W. de Klerk were negotiating a relatively smooth transition from an authoritarian Apartheid state to a country that South Africa has become today, progressive and internationally hailed and supposedly democratic.

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is primarily an historical drama but also a love story between Mandela and his second wife Winnie Madikizela Mandela who is brilliantly played by Naomie Harris. Idris Elba does a superb job portraying such an iconic leader who went from political prisoner to President of a nation. Director Chadwick who also made the superb Kenyan film The First Grader, crafts an ambitious narrative whilst leaving all the burning issues as emotive and significant as ever showing a particular period of South African history that of the 1990’s similar to the 2010 film The Bang Bang Club, which was plagued with optimism, racism, militarism and brutal political violence.

Upon his release from prison in 1990, Mandela choose a path of negotiated discussion with the then nationalist government headed by F. W. de Klerk, which makes that pivotal time in South African history so interesting and integral to the development of the rainbow nation as it is affectionately known today. The film follows Mandela’s early days in Johannesburg in the 1940’s right through the Rivonia trials and to his eventual incarceration on Robben Island and his historic and subsequent release.

Producer Singh has a knack for acquiring high profile stars for his films, so the signing of Elba and Harris in the lead roles of Long Walk to Freedom is crucial to the film’s success. The fact that both stars portray such political leaders so poignantly and powerfully is too their credit and will surely be acknowledged during the 2014 award season. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is long, at times difficult to watch if you are fully versed in South Africa’s turbulent and extraordinary history, but stands on its own as a cinematic tribute to an iconic leader who has now been immortalized in all spheres of South African society from Sport and Commerce to Politics and Art.

This film is probably at times too long but is certainly recommend viewing for superb acting and lovers of historical political dramas. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom also stars South African comedian Riaad Moosa (Material) as Ahmed Kathrada and Terry Pheto of Tsotsi fame as Evelyn Mase.

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