The casting of Nelson Mandela was always going to be pivotal to the success of such a venture, and although the film took 16 years to finally make its way to the screen, with every major black Hollywood actor attached at one time or another to the project, including Denzel Washington (who was the hot favourite) and Morgan Freeman, fate and timing meant it would eventually go to UK actor Idris Elba. This can be seen as a blessing from above as Elba goes all out and easily gives a career best performance in a roll that showcased his acting ability, portraying Mandela warts and all over a period of 80 years. Just as vital in the make up of the movie was the casting of his wife, Winnie Mandela, whose strong willed determination spear-headed the campaign to have her husband released from prison. Again the casting angels smiled favourably and another hot UK talent, Naomie Harris (recently seen as the new Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond film, 'Skyfall') landed the part. Without doubt Harris captures the essence of this woman who has to battle an unjust South African government and raise a family while her husband is incarcerated. In fact though the majority of the film focuses on the fight against the apartheid system of segreation, a central thread runs throughout of a tender love story between Nelson and Winnie, set against the turmoil of circumstances beyond their control.
Against the backdrop of atrocities undertaken by the ruling white South African government, Mandela leads the violent section of the ANC in counter attacks and is soon labelled public enemy number one. By this time he is married to Winnie and they are both committed to change for their country. Caught and given a term of life in prison, along with his ANC comrades, Mandela was to spend the next 27 years behind bars before the public outcry from around the world grew so loud, he was finally released. Upon which he had to navigate the delicate situation of attaining peace between a white minority in power and a black majority who wanted change immediately.The fine cast add weight to the proceddings, but it is the central performances of both Idris Elba and Naomie Harris who lift the film to greater heights, an example of which is displayed in the scene when Nelson is finally freed and is walking hand in hand with Winnie. A touching moment with a lasting image. Without doubt Elba rose magnificently to the challenge of playing Mandela in the different stages of his life, not only in stature, voice and mannerisms, but also from revolutionary to President, however I found Harris' portrayal of Winnie even more rewarding. Her journey beginning with a young woman clearly infatuated and in love with her husband, then losing him to prison while bringing up their children, constantly pursued by police, then imprisoned herself in solitary confinement for 16 months, to be released only stengthened in her resolve to bring the unjust system down by paraphrasing Malcolm X...by any means neccessary! So much so that some her methods of retribution saw her at odds with some of her own colleagues. Yes, even this area is somewhat covered in the film, as is the eventual separation of the Mandelas. In all aspects of the character, Harris brought an inner strength and drive which made Winnie, if not always perfect, at least human and real.
The film gives us an insightful view into the skill Mandela needed to guide his country away from the brink of civil war, not just with the government, but with his own colleagues. Addressing his people on TV he forgives his captors and urges the whole population that peace is the only way forward. Elections change the course of South Africa and soon it is President Mandela. A journey which would have been thought unimaginable is made real. This very moving film ends with the voice of Elba (as Mandela) quoting the great man with this profound statement "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart more than it's opposite." This sums up not only the man, but the heart and soul of this movie. Highly recommended.
Here is a 20 minute featurette about the making of 'Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom':