Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom boasts a magnificent central performance from Idris Elba, and is a fitting and fascinating tribute to the hero it depicts.
Any film that tries to encompass most of Nelson Mandela’s long life carries an enormous burden of expectation.
How can a single film do the man justice within two and a half hours?
In attempting to do so, can it be vital and compelling rather than merely well-meaning and didactic? And here’s a third problem: with Mandela’s recent death, the blanket media coverage of the mourning period and subsequent lengthy tributes to him, might the public’s appetite for such a film now be dimmed?
It would be a pity if so. Long Walk to Freedom (adapted liberally from his autobiography) meets these problems head-on and, after a faintly unsure start, manages to rise above them.
It certainly helps to have a charismatic actor in the lead role, and anyone who recalls Idris Elba’s stellar turn as Stringer Bell in The Wire will know he fits the bill.
Dashing and physically imposing as the younger man, Elba’s body language relaxes as Mandela ages; he seems to acquire wisdom and gravitas along with whitening hair and a shuffling gait.
There are lots of events to pack into any account of this life, and the script by William Nicholson (Gladiator, Shadowlands), does a creditable job of assessing the great man’s achievements,
It is unfashionably wide-ranging and comprehensive, yet Nicholson has a gift for conveying milestone moments briskly.