This is a very, very powerful and commanding turn from Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, replete with a convincing accent, as we watch his life story unfold before us from lawyer to civil rights activist, then rebel, to the long imprisoned leader who would eventually become one of the most influential men of the 20th century and lead South Africa away from racial violence toward forgiveness and a way forward. There is a lot to fit in, and the film does a good job with both the pace and what to put emphasis on, and as well as Nelson in the limelight we also see the changes over time that his wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela goes through, played onscreen by Naomie Harris. Overall quite an emotive and important film, if perhaps a little straight forward – it doesn’t invite the audience to explore the issues at hand in quite the same way that ’12 Years a Slave’ does, for example.
This seems to be a very faithful adaptation of Mandela’s autobiography and sadly shortly after its release the man himself passed away, aged 95. Indeed, the news broke as the film was having its London premier, and a special announcement was made at the end of the film. Elba could very well have earned himself an Academy Award nomination for this, and probably the only reason he hasn’t is simply the large abundance of really great performances in the male lead category for 2013, but this role, and being able to say “Today, we are cancelling the apocalypse!” in ‘Pacific Rim’, as well as reprising his enigmatic part of Heimdall in ‘Thor : The Dark World’ marked an especially awesome year for him.