During the UK premiere of Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, a week after its US debut, news broke of Nelson Mandela’s death and people across the world united to mourn the loss of one of history’s greatest heroes. In a moment of impossible timing, Justin Chadwick’s adaptation of the late anti-apartheid revolutionary’s autobiography was transformed from a biopic into a eulogy. And it succeeds in this new context as a sentimental obituary that reminds audiences of the man and his achievements, unfortunately it fails to offer any fresh information that even the most casual viewer won’t know on their way in.From his rebellious youth growing up in Johannesburg, through to his twenty-seven year imprisonment and Presidential work rebuilding a nation’s once segregated society, Long Walk To Freedom ambitiously seeks to condense fifty years of Nelson Mandela’s life into a feature length runtime. Sadly, this amount of information is too vast for a two and a half hour duration.
Chadwick remedies an overfilled script by hurrying his film along at a desperate pace to force a dizzying intensity on every scene, but fails to pause regularly enough to give its rare moments of contemplation their required poignancy. Most disappointing of all is that there was an opportunity here to offer a fresh perspective on an almost universally known and regularly told story, but instead this uninspired rehashing glosses over useful information that would’ve shed some light on the more unknown portions of this extraordinary tale.
There are sporadic moments of compelling storytelling, but they are all contained to the second half. The Rivonia trial, imprisonment on Robben Island and the reunion with family members on his release remain the most powerful scenes and elevate the entire film. Yet, for all of these memorable individual moments, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is a dissatisfying whole.
While it has found relative success as the moving memorial it wasn’t intended to be, it fails to shrug the lingering disappointment that the life of a man who will always be remembered has been told by such a forgettable film.