Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (12A)

Directed by Justin Chadwick
Released 3rd January 2014
FACT, Wood Street

Reviewed by John Owen

Central to the plot is Mandela, the man, myth, legend, human, father, lover and reluctant freedom fighter driven from his comfort zone to contemplate armed struggle in order to overthrow the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.

With Iris Elba carrying the role of Mandela – imitating the language dialect to perfection – and Naomi Harris depicting his wife and co-leader Winnie, the film revolves around them, specifically their relationship, a symbiotic struggle/love story and human tragedy for the family he left behind – his sacrifice for the struggle for freedom.

Although some may remember him as the elderly smiling statesman in his latter days, for his funky taste in loud shirts, white hair and big toothy grin, shaking hands with kings, queens and other dignitaries around the world. This film, however, lifts the lid on the person that was born to a Xhosa tribe and rose to become the face of liberation for many millions. Like Che Guevara was to student radicals in the 60s, Mandela was iconic to the likes of young 80s anti-apartheid activists, he symbolised the struggle for a fairer, better world.

Millions of events flooded back as I watched the film, I was there but in another space. In Thatcher’s Britain, shouting my lungs off at the cops on some demo or protest dealing with the racist state threatening to hang Moses Mayekiso, a strike leader on the outside of the township. Battling our way into the anti-apartheid movement which, like CND, was a middle-class protest movement from top to bottom, fighting for action not token protest or moral outrage.

The recent verdict in London by our wonderful jury system equated the execution of Sean Duggan by police with justice, the riots of 2011 were the people’s swift reaction to that. Mostly it’s being managed down the repulsion of racism blatantly going unpunished, with handwringing politicians.

Back to the film, Nelson is a good lawyer who helps people in the courtroom. The opening scene has a white women objecting to this black lawyer handling her whites knickers and other things she’s accused the black servant/maid of stealing. In utter disgust she turns to the judge refusing to answer and the judge quashes the verdict. A brief briefs trial. A victory of s(h)orts!

Canny, vigorous and unafraid to fight for peoples’ rights, he boxes in his spare time and is headhunted by the ANC who are looking for someone to be the public face of the movement. Meanwhile, he’s enjoying a carefree and amorous lifestyle not really caring for politics as he thinks individuals should free themselves.

Only when he sees the effect of a leaflet on a bus boycott – rousing thousands in protest against the rise in fares – does he become attracted to the power of political struggle, it is at that point that he divorces his first wife and marries the struggle.

During this time Winnie also catches his eye. Like him she is a born fighter and unafraid; the film does a great deal to explain the torture she had to deal with for being his wife.

Lots of people will call me up on some of the omissions in the film but it’s a good film for the fact that it is enjoyable and – with that popularity – it will spread to others averse to letting more migrants through the door of England’s fair isles. I’d readily see it again if only to enjoy the cinematic brilliance of the landscape which beautifully shot, the camerawork has an excellent dreamlike quality that helps to float you along with him on his life’s walk.

Amandla! RIP Nelson Mandela, freedom fighter.

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