Nelson Mandela is a South African lawyer who joins the African National Congress in the 1940s when the law under the Apartheid system's brutal tyranny proves useless for his people. Forced to abandon peaceful protest for armed resistance after the Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela pays the price when he and his comrades are sentenced to life imprisonment for treason while his wife, Winnie, is abused by the authorities herself. Over the decades in chains, Mandela's spirit is unbowed as his struggle goes on in and beyond his captivity to become an international cause. However, as Winnie's determination hardens over the years into a violent ruthlessness, Nelson's own stature rises until he becomes the renowned leader of his movement. That status would be put to the test as his release nears and a way must be found to win a peaceful victory that will leave his country, and all its peoples, unstained. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
His trial in 1963 featured in the film was not his only major defense against the state. Between December 5, 1956 and March 29, 1961, he and 29 other freedom fighters either in support of or members of the African National Congress were tried for treason against the government. The trial lasted for nearly four and a half years, and after nearly 12000 documents seized by government officials were reviewed, he and the others were found not guilty. These events are well documented in Mandela's autobiography off of which this film is based between chapters 23 and 39. See more »
During the celebrations when the ANC win the elections in 1994, one of the people in the crowd is wearing a South African cricket T-shirt from after 2011. See more »
I have walked a long walk to freedom. It has been a lonely road, and it is not over yet. I know that my country, was not made to be a land of hatred. No one is born hating another person because the color of his skin. People learn to hate. They can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.
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Respectful, even reverential, but honest and moving
This is a film that is difficult to judge simply in cinematic terms since the subject is such a titanic figure in recent history, many older viewers (such as me) will have lived through most of the events depicted, and Nelson Mandela himself - the prisoner who became a president - unknowingly heightened the interest around his life by dying just weeks before the film was released. Yet, allowing for all of this, by any standards "Mandela" is a success, telling a powerful story in a honest and immensely moving manner with some outstanding acting. If it is somewhat reverential, this was to be expected, given the subject and the timing.
Unfashionably for recent bio-pics, "Mandela" chooses not to concentrate on a seminal incident in the subject's life but to paint on a huge canvas, covering many decades and lots of political events in a linear narrative that frequently deploys news clips from the time. It is based on Mandela's long 1995 biography of the same name which I bought on a visit to Robben Island and read with great admiration. British William Nicholson ("Gladiator") has done a skillful job of turning such a huge story into a manageable script and British director Justin Chadwick ("The Other Boleyn Girl") handles a complex of ingredients with genuine talent. It looks good with attention to period clothing and artifacts and use of actual sites and some breathtaking countryside (it was shot entirely on location in South Africa).
Ultimately, however, the success of such an ambitious work rests especially on the lead actors and the casting here was inspired. Idris Elba as the eponymous hero gives a towering performance, while Naomie Harris is a revelation as the more complex and less sympathetic character of his second wife Winnie. It helps that both are not major stars - although that is now set to change - and notable that both are British actors who affect convincing accents.
This is a balanced portrayal of multi-layered characters. Mandela is represented with great respect but he is not offered to us as a saint. He treats his first wife unkindly and his support for violence is not disguised. The film really impresses with its representation of Winnie, a woman who suffered so much, hated so much, and herself caused so much injustice. Mandela is now dead but his great project - the creation of a peaceful and prosperous multiracial nation - is still a work in progress.
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