There are many shots of sun-dappled grass waving in the African breeze in this adaptation of Nelson Mandela's autobiography. Those romantic visuals tell you what to expect - a handsomely shot, nostalgic reflection on an extraordinary life.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom covers Mandela's story from a rural childhood to his inauguration as the first president of post-apartheid South Africa.

It ticks off the major private and public events of Mandela's life, including his marriages, the death of his eldest son, the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, his treason trial in Pretoria and the long negotiation for his release.

Along the way it shows us again what a remarkable politician Mandela was, demonstrated in his ability to unite his divided country. As well, it reminds us of his flaws - including his womanising and involvement in acts reminiscent of the adage about one man's terrorist being another's freedom fighter. We also see how and why that militant stance was adopted by his activist wife, Winnie, during his long imprisonment on Robben Island.


This is, though, a respectful portrait of Mandela, told in a clear and conventional manner. While the narrative is thorough rather than racing (and occasionally plods), it's often heartbreaking and the historic injustices of the apartheid regime may have you shaking your head in disbelief.

It's the impressive British actor Idris Elba (Luther, The Wire), who makes this film better than average; he embodies superbly Mandela's charm, intelligence and courage.

His performance gets better and better as his character ages, and while fellow Brit Naomie Harris gives her all as Winnie even she can't get close to Elba's outstanding performance.

Though this is not a revealing portrait, Long Walk to Freedom is a solidly crafted drama and a timely reminder of Mandela's achievements. The younger generation and those who haven't read the autobiography may find it fascinating.


Idris Elba, Naomie Harris and Terry Pheto


Justin Chadwick


Running time:

147 mins


M (violence and offensive language)


Idris Elba is outstanding in this conventional biography.


- TimeOut