Film Review: Mandela

It’s tempting to allow the profound sense of loss that greeted the death of Nelson Mandela on December 5, 2013, to fog critical judgement of this worthy biopic.

Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom is reverential and respectful, adapted from Mandela’s memoirs of the same name by Oscar nominated screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator, Shadowlands). There is nothing here to desecrate the memory of the South African statesman, who was a linchpin in the abolition of apartheid.

Undated Film Still Handout from  Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Pictured: Idris Elba (Nelson Mandela). See PA Feature FILM Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Pathe. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Film Reviews.

Undated Film Still Handout from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Pictured: Idris Elba (Nelson Mandela). See PA Feature FILM Film Reviews. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Pathe. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FILM Film Reviews.

Equally, Chadwick’s gallop through 52 years of turmoil doesn’t delve into the minutiae of a flawed human being behind the myth.

It’s a handsomely crafted yet emotionally underwhelming skim-read of important historical footnotes.

Mandela’s 27-year incarceration, most of it on Robben Island, accounts for around 40 minutes but feels considerably longer.

Idris Elba is more physically imposing than his subject but he captures the cadences of Mandela’s speech and delivers rousing calls to arms with aplomb.

Naomie Harris is equally impressive as the woman who was wrenched away from her children and suffered physical and emotional abuse to break her spirit.

The 146-minute running is too brief to summarise Mandela’s entire life and too long to sustain key episodes. We want less and more, and have to settle for something in between.