It certainly was a long walk for the man. A walk that would cause him to bear unimaginable burdens, suffer deeply personal losses, struggle to maintain his integrity, and endure 27 years in prison, culminating into the presidency of South Africa. Nelson Mandela’s relentless march was a hard fought journey of unreserved sacrifice. Like all of us, he was not perfect. But he understood the critical importance of priorities regarding his fellow people, and at the risk of sounding political, our own government can learn so much from him.
Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom serves as a testament to one of the giants our generation. It is a fitting prequel to Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, in that it chronicles the late president’s (Nelson Mandela passed away on 5 December 2013) early days as an attorney, not interested in joining the African National Congress. He seemed perfectly content to accept the colonialism of what would be the last African nation to finally rid itself of European rule, until a brutal incident outside a night club begins to change his mind.
Flashing back to his childhood, the film opens with a young,impressionable Mandela whose father had originally named Rolihlahla, meaning troublemaker. He insists he doesn’t want to be a troublemaker, but to make his people proud. Of course at this stage, he has no concept that he will be able to strategically combine troublemaking and pride for the complete liberation and uniting of South Africa, and the eradication of Apartheid. We see through his eyes the young man’s passage into manhood, reinforced by a native Xhosa ritual.
Based on Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, Long Walk to Freedom reveals that he was a man of like passions (the Bible, James 5:17). He apparently enjoys the company of women, of whom one, his girlfriend Evelyn Mase, he asks whether he should join the ANC. Consequently, once the now emotionally charged future leader does join the African National Congress, his determina-tion to rally the people against what he rightly believes, is an apathetic gov-ernment, intensifies exponentially.
Talented British thesp Idris Elba inhabits the titualr role with the same raw determination as other high profile roles he’s played ( Heimdall from Thor ; Stacker Pentecost from Pacific Rim), establishing all of Mandela’s personal and political desires throughout. His accent’s not bad either. When he is finally imprisoned for attempting to overthrow the government, Elba exudes that amazing, nearly ethereal transformation of a man who, after 27 years of captivity, acquired the courage to forgive, and help his country move on.
His wife Winnie, played by versatile actress Naomi Harris, becomes his staunchest ally and supporter, even after his imprisonment. Harris stands toe to toe with Elba in conveying the same vibrant energy and endurance it took for her to withstand the atrocities and personal anguish she went through. Her unending strength keeps Mandela strong. The powerful, emotional scenes be-ween them are simply dramatically epic as Winnie tells him at one point “ The more they oppress us, the harder we fight.”
Script writer William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Miserables) condenses the late South African leader’s 650 page plus autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, to the absolute essentials. From a simple attorney initially unconcerned about true liberty for his native land, to an inspirational, charismatic leader who was able to unite all Black and White South Africans together as one, Nicholson has created a story that will bring forth tears of joy as well as weeping.
Unwaveringly powerful in it’s historcal portrayal of the late South African president, Mandela Long Walk to Freeodom is an inspiration to all of us who have fought so hard for freedom and like Mandela, have been willing to die for it. And in the end he became the personification of Philippians 3:13, Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.