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Film: Mandela- Long Walk to Freedom (12A)

Failure to acknowledge the South African hero's communism is but one of the many deficiencies of a film clearly driven by commercial opportunism, says JEFF SAWTELL

Mandela- Long Walk to Freedom (12A)

Directed by Justin Chadwick

2 Stars

It may have been A Long Walk to Freedom for Mandela but it certainly didn't take much time for the vultures to cash in.

Scripted by William Nicholson and directed by Justin Chadwick this hagiography is, quite frankly, insulting.

It purports to illustrate his life from birth to freedom fighter and his 28 years in prison before his election as president and subsequent difficulties.

Yet, given the vast scope of Mandela's autobiography, it does so without mentioning his essential ingredient - his communist politics.

Obviously with the US market in mind they were afraid of the spectre of communism.

Mandela joined the South Africa Communist Party in 1962 and kept silent about it in court for obvious reasons - it carried the death penalty.

But it was something Mandela had to constantly contend with, such as when he was asked to unveil the blue plaque in London commemorating Ruth First and Joe Slovo.

Pointing to the inscription, he read aloud: "South African freedom fighters," and when asked what that meant he simply answered: "That means they were communists."

He then recalled their history as part of the alliance that led the liberation struggle - Ruth being assassinated by a parcel bomb and Slovo heading Umkhonto we Siswe (MK) while chairman of the SACP.

Alastair Campbell looked askance but nobody interrupted, since there were a few who had swallowed the "terrorists" line but were now eager to claim him as their own.

Apart from two actors playing him as a youth, Mandela in his prime and dotage is acted out by London-born Idris Elba.

He is a fine actor and represents him as an attorney and a charismatic leader, breaking up rocks in jail and influencing people around him.

Much is made of his speech from the dock - which he styled on Fidel's memorable "History will absolve me" address - including the famous line about "renouncing violence when they do."

Another Londoner, Naomie Harris, captures the courage of Winnie Mandela. The irony being, their love and strained relationship provides the only emotional fire in the film.

Winnie was brutalised in prison and had to deal with ANC divisions and her own growing militancy - she, understandably, wanted revenge.

While she is heated, it's Mandela's patience that's stressed, along with his ease in dealing with the divided Afrikaners.

The likes of Walter Sisulu (Tony Kgoroge), Ahmad Kathedra (Riaad Moosa), Govan Mbeki (Fana Mokoena) and Oliver Tambo (Tshallo Sputla) are almost walk-on roles.

Neither are "white" cell-mates like Denis Goldberg and Lionel Bernstein included, so under-representing the "Rainbow Nation."

MK activity is kept down to a single action which is depicted as incompetent.

Footage of solidarity campaigns like the 80th birthday at Wembley and the soundtrack of Gil Scot-Heron's The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is weaved in, but not the news of the Cubans smashing the image of the SA army's military invincibility that bolstered the ANC's standing.

Mandela believed in building mass unity and opposed splitting the movement like the Pan Africanist Congress and Black Consciousness Movement.

He was no pacifist. Simply, given his international iconic status, he was best placed to argue for a planned release without concessions.

Although post-release violence is mentioned, it's not ascribed to the Boers who engineered it - including the murder of the SACP's Chris Hani.

It's such actions and distortions that have dogged SA democracy.

This deification is reminiscent of The Greatest Story Ever Told. Hell, there was more politics in Gandhi.

Mandela was a communist. Get over it.

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