Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom


Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Critics Consensus

It might be too respectful to truly soar, but there's no denying Idris Elba's impressive work in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom -- or the inspirational power of the life it depicts.



Total Count: 139


Audience Score

User Ratings: 22,428
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Movie Info

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM is based on South African President Nelson Mandela's autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming President and working to rebuild the country's once segregated society. Idris Elba (PROMETHEUS) stars as Nelson Mandela with Justin Chadwick (THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL) directing. (c) Weinstein

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Idris Elba
as Nelson Mandela
Naomie Harris
as Winnie Mandela
Tony Kgoroge
as Walter Sisulu
Riaad Moosa
as Ahmed Kathrada
Jamie Bartlett
as James Gregory
Lindiwe Matshikiza
as Zindzi Mandela
Deon Lotz
as Kobie Coetzee
Zolani Mkiva
as Raymond Mhlaba
Robert Hobbs (II)
as Chief Warder
Carl Beukes
as Niels Barnard
Mark Elderkin
as Sophiatown Policeman
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Critic Reviews for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

All Critics (139) | Top Critics (33) | Fresh (84) | Rotten (55)

  • Not so much a drama as a kind of protracted educational video, the message driven home by a soupily emotional score and repeated flashbacks, sometimes in slo-mo, to Mandela's golden memories of the past, bathed in sunlight.

    Jan 3, 2014 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • A worthy, if unadventurous biopic of the recently departed South African political icon.

    Jan 2, 2014 | Rating: 3/5
  • If it is a bit stately, that is understandable: his life story really is extraordinary. The movie pays homage - in good faith.

    Jan 2, 2014 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…
  • Even those familiar with the history will be impressed and moved to see these events as Mandela experienced them, before the Nobel Prize and universal adulation recast the past in a glow of inevitability.

    Dec 26, 2013 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Nelson Mandela gets the Classics Illustrated treatment with this handsome, undemanding biopic.

    Dec 26, 2013 | Full Review…
  • The life of Nelson Mandela is simply too big, too complex and too important to be contained in one movie.

    Dec 26, 2013 | Rating: C+ | Full Review…

    Tom Long

    Detroit News
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

  • Mar 31, 2014
    This British/South African biographical film directed by Justin Chadwick from a script written by William Nicholson and Idris Elba and Naomie Harris was just a little bit above average. It is based on the 1995 autobiographical book Long Walk to Freedom by anti-apartheid revolutionary and former South African President Nelson Mandela, but somehow is still told like a distant reminder, not as inspirational life story. I was really interested in everything about Mandela's early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming President and working to rebuild the country's once segregated society. Idris Elba was a good choice for the main character, regardless the physical incompatibility with the role, because his portrayal of Nelson Mandela will be remembered. Naomie Harris stars as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and she was impressive most of the times in her role. Director Justin Chadwick had a difficult task, but he did just enough, even with a number of negative reviews for this movie. Long Walk to Freedom premiered in London on 5 December 2013 as a Royal Film Performance, Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were in attendance, along with Mandela's daughters Zindzi and Zenani. The announcement of the death of Nelson Mandela occurred while the film was being screened; William and Kate were immediately informed of Nelson's passing, while producer Anant Singh (alongside Idris Elba) took the stage during the closing credits to inform patrons of Mandela's passing, and held a moment of silence. William made brief comments to the press while exiting the theatre, stating that "I just wanted to say it's extremely sad and tragic news. We were just reminded what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family right now." The film was temporarily pulled from theatres in South Africa the next day out of respect, but returned on 7 December 2013. Amazing man could have an amazing movie made about him, but it seems that the producer was on a limited budget. It was very earnest and ambitious, but trying to squeeze in too many milestones of Nelson Mandela's long life as he worked to end the oppressive regime of apartheid in South Africa, was simply impossible. Good try, though.
    Panta O Super Reviewer
  • Mar 14, 2014
    It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. Very Good Film! A powerful movie, that shows a man more passionate about equality and human rights than his own well being, and sadly at the detriment of his own family. This is a balanced portrayal of multi-layered characters. Mandela is represented with great respect but he is not offered to us as a saint. He treats his first wife unkindly and his support for violence is not disguised. The film really impresses with its representation of Winnie, a woman who suffered so much, hated so much, and herself caused so much injustice. Mandela is now dead but his great project - the creation of a peaceful and prosperous multiracial nation - is still a work in progress. This biographical film of Mandela's life, which premiered on the day he died, has undeniable good points and bad points, and sometimes they are the same thing. Its main problem is one which is common with this sort of movie: it is so aware that it is telling an important story that it sometimes forgets that it is supposed to engage its audience at the same time: it is earnest and worthy, but not always entertaining. Idris Elba does a good Mandela voice and conveys charisma, particularly as the young and vital Mandela: he is perhaps a little too physically imposing. Naomie Harris was Winnie Mandela is stunningly good. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a solidly made, but safe film. There are excellent moments in the second half of the film as South Africa implodes with violence, but it is a very safe film that tries to fit too much in its running time. It is a film that can easily appeal to a middle -aged, mainstream audience. Nelson Mandela is a South African lawyer who joins the African National Congress in the 1940s when the law under the Apartheid system's brutal tyranny proves useless for his people. Forced to abandon peaceful protest for armed resistance after the Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela pays the price when he and his comrades are sentenced to life imprisonment for treason while his wife, Winnie, is abused by the authorities herself. Over the decades in chains, Mandela's spirit is unbowed as his struggle goes on in and beyond his captivity to become an international cause. However, as Winnie's determination hardens over the years into a violent ruthlessness, Nelson's own stature rises until he becomes the renowned leader of his movement. That status would be put to the test as his release nears and a way must be found to win a peaceful victory that will leave his country, and all its peoples, unstained.
    Manu G Super Reviewer
  • Feb 08, 2014
    It's an interesting coincidence that only a few days after this film came out in South Africa, Nelson Mandela died, that is, if it was a coincidence. I couldn't help but notice that this project was fairly low in profile up until recently, when Mandela died and this film's marketing got a big boost, so maybe the filmmakers took advantage of their being too low-profile for people to pay attention to them and had Mandela taken out in a fashion that looked natural in order to increase viewership. ...Yeah, yeah, some might say that it's too soon to be saying stuff like that, but the guy was 95, so don't tell me that you haven't been working on a list of dead Mandela jokes the past few years. I don't know about you guys, but I was more interested in a list of Tyler Perry jokes, because last holiday season, if you'll force yourself to remember correctly, Idris Elba got robbed by the overpaid cross-dresser in question for the role of Alex Cross, another black guy who ultimately realized that if you want to get things done, you're going to have to resort to some violence. Yeah, people, let's lose the rose-colored glasses, because the man...dela (Tee-hee) had some seriously questionable aspects, but hey, the story of brutally fighting for freedom within your own nation evidently related to the Irish enough for this film to get an original song by U2... or at least that's my attempt at trying to figure out why they got U2 to do the theme song for this film. Eh, they've been a big bunch of African sympathizers for a while now, and besides, it's not like they were going to get the Spice Girls, who - I swear - Mandela was a big fan of. They've done enough, or perhaps a little too much justice to the life of Mandela with this film, although they would have done more if this effort, like Mandela, didn't have some questionable aspects. The momentum of this effort is defused by familiarity alone, for although storytelling is not so much generic, it is certainly formulaic in its approach to subject matter whose familiar path is made all the more rocky by the final product's sheer questionable length. This character study certainly needs to be extensive, but certain elements seem to outstay their welcome, with repetitious fat around the edges that do a serious number on momentum, further stiffened by problematic atmospheric plays. Director Justin Chadwick's thoughtful approach is generally controlled enough to be engaging, but when it goes cold, the quietness blands, maybe even bores, while dryness leaves pacing to retard, to where it's all but impossible to ignore the structural inconsistencies. Expository inconsistencies, if you will, further reflect limitation within the realization of storytelling, as the film is often extensive, if excessive in its meditations upon certain elements of rich subject matter, and is just as often too tight, achieving a conceptually adequate length of a little over two hours and a quarter by meeting the bloatings with the thinning of developmental meat and, with it, the full consequential weight of this drama's conflict. If nothing else, unevenness in structuring shake momentum by thinning focus through a combination of narrative bloating and expository thinning that leads to a sense of episodicity in layered plotting that hinders a sense of progression. There are only so many problems here, but the primary, generally pacing-related ones prove to be a big issue, hamstringing the momentum of storytelling and reflecting an ambition to bloat this project with plenty of meat that actually ends up getting carried away, until the final product becomes overblown, yet still too cold to grip, until you're left with an effort that is very much inspired in a lot of areas, to be sure, yet too draggy, uneven and unfocused in others to truly reward as much as it wants to. That being said, the film comes close enough to that point to surely engage time and again, particularly on an aesthetic level. The production value to Willie Botha's, Patrick O'Connor's and Cecelia van Straaten's art direction isn't all that intricate, but it's certainly convincing, drawing you into the visual aspects of this long-term period piece about as much as Low Crawley's cinematography, whose harsh, shadow-heavy grit doesn't open a whole lot of room for visual dynamicity, but is refreshing enough to engage as handsome and fitting for heavy subject matter. The artistic aspect that further charges this film is Alex Heffes' score, which utilizes near-old-fashioned ambient aspects, a certain African flavor and some light classical sting through tasteful compositions that are both beautiful and atmospherically effective. The color of Heffes' score sustains a certain entertainment value through the pacing problems, if not drives the heights in dramatic effectiveness, which see a distinct advantage within their being established through a compelling story concept that the score helps bring life to. The familiarity and inconsistencies to an often both overblown and undercooked interpretation of a worthy story undercuts much too much compellingness, yet potential is palpable within this layered study on the personal life, legal struggles, political ambitions and overall influence of a legendary freedom fighter, which has a juice to it that is actually drawn pretty well by highlights in storytelling. Justin Chadwick's thoughtful direction is often meditative to the point of being blandly dry, yet when inspiration meets ambition, the film moves, with moments of genuine dramatic kick that show glimpses of a more rewarding which could have been, though its nevertheless almost achieved, on the backs of inspiration found both off of and on the screen. The unevenly used Naomie Harris steals the show in her passion and convincing portrayal of Winnie Mandela's emotionally intense transformation from the wife of a freedom fighter into a leader whose questionable mental state begets questionable methods in a fight for justice, but most everyone is good, if not solid, as is the case of leading man Idris Elba, who captures the distinguished charisma and subtle dramatic layers of Nelson Mandela with such realization that he effortlessly embodies the icon and carries quite a bit of the final product. Were the film a little more consistent and focused, then it would have rewarded, and if it really pulled out the stops with material tightness and directorial realization, it probably could have, as the Rotten Tomatoes consensus put it, "soared", and yet, as things stand, for all its shortcomings, this effort engages as a well-crafted, well-acted and often fairly effective biopic that should still hit a little harder. When the walk is done, conventions and inconsistencies within pacing and focus to the overblown telling of a worthy story concept, until the final product falls quite a ways short of its full potential, but appealing art direction, cinematography and score work, thoughtful direction and strong performances - particularly by a show-stealing Naomie Harris and a transformative Idris Elba - are ultimately enough to make "Mandela: Long Walk to the Freedom" a consistently engaging and sometimes impacting, if rather underwhelming portrait on the life, struggles and impact of an icon of modern freedom fighting. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Feb 04, 2014
    Idris Elba does an impressive job in this respectful and nicely crafted biopic that is unfortunately not so engaging from an emotional point of view nor as memorable as the man who inspired it, and the jumps in time only contribute to dilute our involvement.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer

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