DRAMA; 2hr 25min
STARRING: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris
Lovers, fighters: Elba and Harris
In 1942, the young Nelson Mandela (Elba) of director Justin Chadwick’s big, imposing movie is a Johannesburg-based lawyer thirsty for change in a cold racial climate. He’s handsome, self-assured and clever as can be, none of which means a damn to the blinkered white population. By 1948, his personal quest is inevitably political — Mandela is a freedom fighter, his first marriage is over and social worker Winnie Madikizela (Harris) has entered the picture. And folks, we’re only getting started.
“Epic” and “iconic” are creaky reviewing clichés but they’re also the parameters of Mandela’s pre-eminent existence, 27 years of which were spent as a political prisoner. William Nicholson’s screenplay of Mandela’s memoir scrolls flowingly through key events, although given the king-size range that it’s so intrepidly attempting, it can’t help but fall victim to the “And then he… And then he…” syndrome. Elba, also big and imposing, is suitably mighty in the decades-spanning title role: the issue lies with what he is given to do. On the one hand, Mandela demands the time commitment the man deserves. On the other, no one film can fully encompass the breadth and depth of such a life.