Idris Elba's Nelson Mandela is best thing about new biopic
British actor's 'terrific' performance in 'Long Walk to Freedom' can't save 'stolidly reverential' movie
CRITICS have given a lukewarm reception to the Nelson Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom, but heaped praise on its British star, Idris Elba.
The 152-minute authorised biopic, directed by Justin Chadwick who is best-known for The Other Boleyn Girl, - had its premiere at the Toronto film festival yesterday.
Many critics struggled to get excited about the film, which feels like a "stolidly reverential" telling of Mandela's story, according to Variety's Scott Foundas. Exuding the "musty odour of a 1980s Richard Attenborough superproduction", it is "shackled to the most dire conventions of the mythmaking biopic," he writes.
But Foundas has much kinder things to say about Elba, who "catches the spirit of Mandela in the way no other actor quite has".
For example, the scenes shot on Robben Island - the former leper colony where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years - should feel like the movie's most familiar scenes, writes Foundas. But Elba manages to give them a "fresh charge".
The Guardian's Henry Barnes says there's something "fundamentally uncinematic" about Mandela's long struggle against apartheid. Chadwick's film compensates for that by "bellowing" at its audience. It "pumps in the period detail and drops in chunks of news footage to back up its importance".
But Barnes admits that Elba is a "convincing statesman" - "his take on the icon is respectful and deft".
The Independent's Kaleeb Aftab says the film seldom attempts to analyse its iconic subject and the narrative is "uneven and inconsistent". But he concedes that Elba is "terrific as the womaniser and young radical, delivering a rousing speech at a cinema and also in the run-up to the 1994 election calling for peace on television".
Writing in the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney says Long Walk to Freedom showcases Elba's skills more than any other production he's been involved in, including the acclaimed HBO drama The Wire.
Elba's "dynamic presence feeds the warmth as well as the authority and dignity of the man", writes Rooney. "He's also uncannily like the real Mandela in his voice and accent work."
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is due to open in the UK on 3 January, 2014 ·