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Mandela Long Walk to Freedom

Updated on January 20, 2014

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is intended to be the cinematic realisation of Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Mandela was obviously a world renowned figure, but there was a time when he was all but forgotten. In the wake of Mandela's recent passing, this film celebrates his life and his contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle.

Long Walk to Freedom is a true African story of the heartbreak and devastation caused by the apartheid system, two people caught up in the fight against apartheid, and Mandela's long struggle which ended in triumph.

Review of Long Walk to Freedom - Movie Review

Idris Elba Mandela Poster
Idris Elba Mandela Poster

Children run and play against the backdrop of the mountains of South Africa. Then young boys participate in initiation rituals that turn them into adults, ending by splashing in the river to cleanse themselves of the white makeup in which they are covered.

Although he is now a man, in the eyes of the Afrikaaners of apartheid South Africa, Nelson Mandela is still a boy.

As a young lawyer in Johannesburg, Mandela defends members of his community against the unjust apartheid laws. As he comes up against the entrenched racist attitudes of white South Africans, he gradually gets caught up into the anti-apartheid struggle.

His commitment to that struggle puts paid to his first marriage. He subsequently courts and marries the feisty and fiery Winnie, whose commitment to the struggle matches that of her husband.

Winnie Enters the Scene - Winnie Mandela and the Struggle against Apartheid

Young Nelson and Winnie Mandela
Young Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Actually, for Winnie Mandela, it is not so much a struggle as a demand to be treated with respect and dignity. On the steps of the courthouse, wearing ANC colours, she demands of an official, "Don't touch me! Don't touch me!". The message is clear: this lady will not be subjugated or degraded by the apartheid system and its agents. Naomie Harris carries off the role brillliantly, going from a somewhat naive young woman to a mature and justifiably angry survivor.

The authorities expected Mandela and his colleagues to be forgotten, but Winnie ensured that he remained in the public consciousness. I am sure this contributed to his eventual release.

One of the strengths of the film is its portrayal of Winnie Mandela's experience - the invasion of her home, her arrest and her imprisonment. The torture she endured is hinted at without being depicted on-screen.

For more about Winnie Mandela's treatment under apartheid, see: Nelson Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom. In the film, Mandela states that their treatment of Winnie is the apartheid system's only victory over him.

Nelson Mandela in Prison
Nelson Mandela in Prison

Nelson Mandela in Prison

While in prison, Mandela was, for a time, almost forgotten by the outside world. But this film touches on the fact that he was determined to remain strong, mentally and physically, and rallied his fellow prisoners as well as being supported by them.

One great weakness of the film is that it fails to explore Mandela's own imprisonment experience in much detail. He goes from being a young man, newly arrived at Robben Island with his co-conspirators, to an elderly gentleman being courted by President De Klerk with offers of conditional release.

In particular, the fact that he wrote Long Walk to Freedom secretly, in prison, and smuggled it out while still a prisoner, is not shown, and this is a serious omission.

Mandela, in secret talks with government ministers(?), never agrees to the conditions De Klerk seeks to impose, but is eventually released on his own terms, i.e. unconditionally.

Although many of us are aware of some or all of the events depicted here, including the Sharpeville Massacre and the 1976 Soweto uprising, the fact that they are depicted here is very important. These events help to contextualise Nelson's and Winnie's personal struggles.

For a first-hand account of the Soweto uprising, see Black History: Life under Apartheid.

The fact that the authorities fired on unarmed civilians in both of these incidents still has the power to shock.

Idris Elba as Mandela

Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela
Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela

Idris Elba gives a powerful performance in the central role. He captures exactly the physical presence of the elderly Mandela - his posture, the way he walks, and the voice.

We get a strong sense of the man who, even in prison, retained a sense of himself as a leader and his duty to his people.

Final Thoughts

Over the final credits, photographs remind us that the incidents portrayed in the film are real. Winnie Mandela ascends the steps of the courthouse; someone carries a wounded and bloodied child during the Soweto uprising.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is definitely worth seeing. But for the factual details and analysis, you really need to read the book. For my review of the book, see: Long Walk to Freedom.

Idris Elba's 'Mandela' Portrayal Getting Oscar Buzz

Idris Elba and Naomie Harris Discuss Mandela

Idris Elba and Naomie Harris discuss Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Warning: This clip depicts violence.

The violence of the apartheid regime included in the film depicts real events.

There is also a clip here which shows the tensions between Nelson and Winnie Mandela.

Idris Elba and Naomie Harris discuss Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

Warning: This clip depicts violence.

The violence of the apartheid regime included in the film depicts real events.

Reader Comments - Please leave your comments below.

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    • Zhana21 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @Adventuretravels: That must have been exciting for you. What was the response of the audience at the screening?

    • Adventuretravels profile image


      5 years ago from UK

      I went to the House of Commons to watch a pre-release screening of this film. I went with my husband who was invited by Paul Blomfield MP and Lord Hughes, who was chair of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement for 20 years. It was an audience of anti apartheid fighters. My husband was sent to South Africa by the ANC in 1971 to help keep the resistance alive in the most difficult period of the struggle. We watched the film in the Grand Committee room, the very place where Nelson Mandela spoke on his first trip to Britain after his release. The film was excellent. Here's a link to a book about the underground secret missions carried out from London by my husband and others.


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