Biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom - reviews

Jan 3, 2014

Incendiary performances by Idris Elba and Naomie Harris elevate familiar tale of Nelson Mandela's life

What you need to know

Critics are praising the "incendiary" performances in the biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, released in UK cinemas today. Justin Chadwick directs the film starring Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) as anti-apartheid activist and former South African president Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as his former wife, Winnie.

Based on Mandela's 1994 autobiography of the same name, the film charts his early years as a lawyer, his ANC activities, his marriage to Winnie and his 27 years in prison before being released to become president of the once racially segregated nation.

What the critics like

Any film that tries to encompass most of Nelson Mandela's long life carries an enormous burden of expectation, says David Gritten in the Daily Telegraph. Yet with the magnificent Elba to anchor it, this film "gradually achieves a sort of grandeur" that is a fitting and fascinating tribute to the hero it depicts.

It's a "vivid, substantial" film and Elba has the presence to shoulder the role of Mandela, says Angie Errigo in Empire. And Harris, as second wife Winnie, is a firecracker as she progresses from sexy soulmate to damaging ideological opponent.

It is "the incendiary work of Idris Elba and Naomie Harris" as Nelson and Winnie that elevates our involvement in this authorized film version of Mandela's autobiography, says Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. This may be a familiar story, but it is one worth experiencing again and again.

What they don't like

The director Justin Chadwick makes the mistake of trying to fit too much in, says Kaleem Aftab in The Independent. The result is "a film with ADHD – just as anything becomes interesting, the action moves on".

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