January 2, 2014 5:59 pm

Film review – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

A biopic that erases controversy and idiosyncrasy from the great man’s life
Idris Elba in 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'

Idris Elba in 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom'

Let the words “Cry freedom” ring across the world. Freedom from political cruelty and oppression. But freedom too, please, from hagiographical stinkers like Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Stinkers that smell no better because they have an earnest, honourable, bleeding-heart subject.

Poor Nelson Mandela. Barely in the ground and one more giant clod of well-meant, pious banality is thrown on his memory. Scenarist William Nicholson scripted Elizabeth, so he should know better what makes a biopic: idiosyncrasies, fascinating flaws, good works inseparable from glittering quirks. Director Justin Chadwick made The Other Boleyn Girl, which at least had fun sorting out the sisterly sex shifts at Henry VIII’s court.

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Nigel Andrews

There is no fun in Mandela; no life either. Couldn’t we have had some controversy-stirring candour about this true-life hero in his early terrorist phase? The screen Mandela does toss his enemies around a bit in his ANC salad years, but it’s brief and about as visceral as Masterchef. British actor Idris Elba expends his skills on painstaking vocal mimicry, leaving none for emotion, spontaneity or a simulation of intellectual vitality.

Solemnly we pound on through the Robben Island years, the Soweto riots, the first chinks in Apartheid, the power-sharing pow-wows; until finally a nation is saved, the stodgy-uplifting music climaxes and we get the messages – peace, love, reconciliation after struggle – that we “got” before the film even began.


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