Film Review: MANDELA: Long Walk to Freedom

A compelling story of Mandela's politics, his struggles and sacrifices and how he changed his country, but at it's heart of this film lies a love story. The narrative spans his life before, during and after prison and includes insight into his family, comrades, loves and personal heartache, while offering a powerful cinematic experience. I highly recommend it...Naomi

MANDELA: Long Walk to Freedom

SYNOPSIS

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is based on South African President Nelson Mandela's autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming President and working to rebuild the country's once segregated society. Idris Elba stars as Nelson Mandela, Naomie Harris stars as Winnie Mandela and Justin Chadwick directed.

MANDELA: Long Walk to Freedom

I found this to be a powerful movie and a real eye opener into the turbulent life of this iconic man. Although the film takes it's time in letting the story unfold, it also includes fast action scenes and a love story. It's fascinating, has an elegant old movie feel, with atmospheric photography by DOP Lol Crawley and passionate performances. There would have been so many stories that could have been told here and a glut of information, which would have made writing the screenplay a mammoth job in deciding what to include or exclude to keep it from becoming a documentary of details, but screenwriter William Nicholson, has created a strong narrative that gets into the emotion of the story and embraces Mandela as a man, a husband and a father.

 MANDELA: Long Walk to Freedom

FROM THE PRODUCTION NOTES

The journey to bring to the big screen the personal narrative of one of the greatest humanitarians in history was a formidable 16 year-long odyssey for the producer, Anant Singh. As a third generation of Indian descent born in South Africa, and classed as a 'non-white' citizen by the apartheid government, Anant was part of the liberation struggle. "Madiba was that icon for everyone in that struggle and when I started making movies I believed that the story of this liberation was so profound, it had to be told."

Singh, who started his career in film production during the height of apartheid, brought the country's first anti-apartheid films to world screens. Ironically he was prohibited from watching them in South Africa's segregated cinemas together with any white director.

It was through his close relationship with the prominent anti-apartheid activist, Fatima Meer (who wrote the Mandela biography, Higher than Hope, which was approved by Mandela while he was still in prison), that Singh was introduced to Mandela. Six weeks after Mandela’s triumphant release from prison Singh had the most significant meeting of his life. "Fatima invited me to her home and there sat Madiba! I had no idea he would be there." recalls Singh who spent an hour with Mandela at the very start of his freedom.

"What struck me was his humility, his knowledge of everything, and most notably his desire to know my point of view. He made everything so easy. Here you are with a person who you’ve been in awe of all your life, but you feel like you’re talking to a friend. That was the day that my relationship with him began."

Before Long Walk to Freedom was published in 1995, Mandela invited Singh to look at the manuscript. "It took me the weekend to read and I immediately said to him: 'There is a significant movie here, I have to make it!" When the book hit international agencies two months later, the offers came in from Hollywood and a bidding contest began. Singh recollects that Madiba said: 'This is a South African story, and I want you to tell it.'

MANDELA'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Ahmed Kathrada, one of the seven political prisoners sentenced alongside Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia Trial, recalls the birth of Mandela’s autobiography: "The manuscript Madiba wrote on Robben Island was not as dense as Long Walk To Freedom which was much more developed and researched. It was used as the basis for his book. When Madiba turned 60 and we had been in prison for 10 years, we thought that the time had come for us to make a political statement and that getting him to write his autobiography would be the way. This was kept a secret even from ANC people, except those of us who were directly involved. The process was that he would write whatever he could and give it to me for my comments, which I would write in the margin, and then pass on to Walter Sisulu for his comments. Then, with our comments, Madiba would write the final version and send it to Mac Maharaj who – in miniscule writing - reduced 600 pages to 50 double-sided pages."

Kathrada describes the cautious planning of their undercover process. As Maharaj was being released after serving a 12 year sentence, the job to smuggle the manuscript off the Island and send it to exiles in London fell to him. Once he reached his destination the plan was to send Kathrada an innocuous postcard confirming that it was out of danger and that they could destroy the original - which they had compressed into small plastic containers and buried in the garden. "We thought we were safe and didn’t destroy it, but when the prison authorities built a wall through the garden we hastily managed to retrieve and destroy some of the notes, but the rest was confiscated and our punishment was a 4 year deprivation of studies for writing this illegal document."

Kathrada discusses the movie: "We do not want Robben Island to be a Museum of our Suffering. It's a prison that symbolizes victory, because it has never occurred in history that an individual has stepped out of the shoes of a prisoner, into Parliament and on to become President in such a short space of time. It is my hope that the movie will go beyond Madiba and highlight his legacy; what he stood for, and what he’s always emphasized." He himself has gone out of his way to say that he is very worried that people have built him up into a saint. In fact, that quotation is in his Book of Quotations. It worried him all the time. As he has always emphasized, he is part of a collective. He doesn’t take decisions on his own."

Film Running Time: 141 Mins

MPAA Rating: PG-13