Jan 28, 2014 Film & TV
Directed by Justin Chadwick
The first and main problem with this adaptation of Nelson Mandela’s bestselling autobiography is, obviously, the act of trying to compact the life of one of the 20th century’s most important human beings into a movie-length collection of scenes. Then, having done that, imbuing it with the gravity, humour and energy of the man himself.
It is from this dilemma that the film’s other problems stem: the cheesy chocolate-box dialogue, the syrupy dazzle of the flashbacks, the too-brief moments of political negotiation, the rushed romances (Mandela was quite the seducer), the jarring scenes of violence, and the barest character outlines of the important figures who walked with him on his journey.
What saves this biopic is hunky Idris Elba, with a little help from hair and makeup. His vocal performance is impeccable — close your eyes and it’s Madiba talking — and his attractive bulk reminds us that Mandela wasn’t always the crinkly-eyed old man most of us first met when he walked out of prison. Paired with Naomie Harris as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, they make a good fist of their roles in this fusty, old-fashioned film. You know what? Read the book.