As one of the most revered and influential figures of the 20th Century, Nelson Mandela was an icon to an awful lot of people, not to mention a spiritual and political inspiration for countless more. In the eight years since his death, it’s almost surprising that nobody has moved to mount the definitive biopic of his incredible life story, but we have seen two films that focus on different stages of his life.
Clint Eastwood’s Invictus revolved around the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and was about as solidly workmanlike as you’d expect the legendary actor and filmmaker’s output to be. It was functional and precise rather than stylish and exciting, but it did decent business at the box office and saw stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon nominated for Academy Awards.
Idris Elba‘s Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, meanwhile, premiered in September 2013, just three months before Madiba’s death, adding an extra layer of poignancy to the proceedings. The trouble with many biopics that focus on people as monolithic as Nelson Mandela is that they can often devolve into hagiography, and while director Justin Chadwick delivers an earnest narrative, there’s not much urgency about it.
The elegiac pace holds Long Walk to Freedom back from maximizing its potential, but there are no faults with Elba’s work. The leading man gives arguably the best performance of his career in a movie that he clearly held very dear to his heart, and even picked up a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actor – Drama category, but its only Oscar nod went to U2 for Best Original Song. Long Walk to Freedom hit the Netflix library today, though, and might just play well with Elba’s fans, not to mention those fond of a biographical drama.