Movies – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Review (or “Telling You Nothing You Didn’t Know Already”)

It’s a new year and another batch of movies to see at the cinema.

Right now it looks like there are a few decent films on, so I’ll have to make time over the next couple of weeks to get along to see them.

First up though is the Nelson Mandela biopic Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom Review: What’s This About

The story of Nelson Mandela’s life as an activist through to his eventual election as President of a united South Africa. It’s based on Mandela’s own autobiography of the same name.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom: Who’s In It

It stars Idris “Luther” Elba doing his best Mandela impersonation. Beyond that, the only other character to get any screen time of note is Winnie Mandela, played by Naomie Harris.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom: How Highly Is It Rated?

That would seem to depend upon who you ask. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus, with ratings ranging from 2.5 to 4.5 stars in the press, while imdb gives it 7.0/10 from around 3,500 votes.


I don’t know much about Nelson Mandela’s life beyond what anyone who hasn’t lived under a rock all their lives would know. I know he was an activist with the ANC, he was imprisoned, there was a benefit concert, he got out years later and

I just see Luther

I just see Luther

became President.

And when I sit here and think about it, I don’t think I know any more about him now I’ve seen the film.

That’s not a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting and it held my attention in spite of people suggesting it was too long, but I can’t say it was thrilling.

To me, a good biopic needs to fill a certain criteria. It’s either got to be…

  • The mostly factual telling of the story of someone you don’t know much about (Example: Captain Phillips/Rush)
  • A snippet of an event in someone’s life that’s exciting enough on its own merit to be told (Example: Downfall)
  • A story from the perspective of someone else (Example: My Week With Marilyn)
  • A semi fictionalised biopic that makes what might otherwise have been a mundane tale seem more interesting (Example: Saving Mr Banks/Catch Me If You Can)

Long Walk To Freedom didn’t fulfil any of those criteria. It seemed to me that it was a highlights package of Mandela’s life that the majority of the people watching would already know about. It was devoid of drama.

And sure, I’m not saying I should be sitting there thinking to myself “Fuck, what’s going to happen? I hope the white guys don’t win”, but I’d liked to have understood more about him.

For example, they touch upon things like his son dying, but it goes nowhere, and his thawing relationship with his prison guards and the white politicians of South Africa is just skimmed over. One minute he’s public enemy number one and the next he’s having high level discussions with the President, and we don’t really know why.

Ironically, it’s the character of Winnie Mandela who is developed more throughout the film. You understand her change and the motivation for that change far more than you understand Mandela.

But then that could well be the trouble with making a film based upon someone’s autobiography. I haven’t read it, and this film may not be translating it well to the screen, but it seemed a bit of a lifeless whitewash (pardon the reverse pun) of Mandela the person. He’s never anything less than the hero and shows absolutely no weaknesses or flaws, and that could be because that’s how he decided to portray himself.

Is his depiction as a person true to life? I honestly don’t know, but I feel it can’t be.

As for the acting performances, Elba is fine on the face of it, but you do wonder if much more was required than to put on a Nelson Mandela impression that sounds pretty good for him to get away with it.

Harris, meanwhile, seemed to take a good hour to get to grips with her attempted thick African accent as her early attempts sounded like a Glaswegian.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom: Final Thoughts

So on the whole, this film was ok, but not all that interesting.

To give it credit, it didn’t bore me, but it just wasn’t exciting or particularly informative either.

I feel underwhelmed



One Response to Movies – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom Review (or “Telling You Nothing You Didn’t Know Already”)

  1. Julie says:

    I cannot fault your opinion on this film at all, best review I’ve read. I watched the film last night and was left disappointed that such a pivotal moment in history was given such a flat prosaic portrayal. I’m still no wiser as to who this man was (even though I know quite a lot about the ANC and his role). I felt the actress who played Winnie Mandela portrayed far more passion and was a more interesting character (despite the accent blip) than Idris Elba was able to bring to the role.

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