Mandela, Metallica, Matthew McConaughey – a weekend of M’s here at the Toronto Film Fest. Of course, it was a weekend of so much more, yet for me, it’s the Mandela movie that has had my attention.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom premiered on Saturday night to a hearty standing ovation that filled the Roy Thomson Hall. I took a bit of time to sit with the film, and my overall impressions. I had a very physical reaction to the movie – visceral even, in that I was deeply moved. Honestly. When the credits started rolling, I felt my heart pulsating, my cheeks were red and mascara-strewn, and my fingers were shaking. I wasn’t quite sure where all that emotion came from.
Perhaps it was a release from all the weeks spent on tenterhooks awaiting news of Madiba’s condition in hospital. Perhaps it was seeing the story onscreen of my country – at a time when I was growing up and Apartheid was being torn down – told in one solid go. Perhaps. But what I do know for sure, is that I felt moved by Idris Elba’s portrayal of Nelson Mandela. He does not physically look like Madiba – the only thing they share is height and build, and when you’ve come to know someone’s face the way we’ve come to know Mandela’s, it can be hard to suspend your disbelief. But Idris gets him. His accent, his movements, even his Madiba jive. He getshim. Unequivocally so.
I’m not about to review the film. There are some reviews out already by others more capable. But as a South African, I felt like the story was told in a way that made it the all-encompassing epic a life like the one led by Madiba deserves. It doesn’t gloss over his shortcomings, for these only lead to a greater understanding of who he was before he went to prison, and the man he became when he left. It does give an audience beyond the borders of South Africa a sense of why we revere him so much.
Historically, artistic license has been taken with some of the details of how events played out – for example, the film shows Mandela addressing the South African public on TV after the Boipathong Massacre and not Chris Hani’s assassination, as it actually was, but within the constraints of a 2-and-a-half hour film, this is to be expected. The power of Mandela’s words – and indeed Idris’ delivery of them – is still potent, and they don’t feel misplaced, for we know it was his handling of these two events that demonstrated his ability to calm a country on the edge.
Idris embodies Mandela’s example of forgiveness and patience; he allows those who weren’t there to watch by example, and those who were, to remember and reflect. As I was watching the final scene, I wondered about how this film will play out in South Africa, and if it could make the country feel as united as when Mandela rallied us all during the World Cup. We’ll see when the film releases in November.
As for Metallica and Matthew McConaughey, I’ll have to write about them tomorrow. Like I said, Mandela had my focus this weekend.