Every year brings with it a share of prestigious biopics about cultural icons, be they historical politicians, celebrities, revolutionaries – or some combination of those three options. One such film that will hit theaters in 2013 is Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, a project which spans the life of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela – the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and first black South African to hold office in the country – from his time as an upstart youth in the village of Mvezo (“Rolihlahla” is a Xhosa term that roughly translates to mean “troublemaker”), on through to the 27 years he spent in prison and his election as South Africa’s president in the early 1990s.
Idris Elba (Pacific Rim) portrays adult Nelson Mandela in the film, in addition to providing the voiceover narration for the newly-released UK teaser trailer. The first promo is a gorgeous tease of what’s to come, between the balletic aerial tracking shot – featuring an elderly Mandela and his (children?) quite literally trekking over rolling hills – and Elba bringing the appropriate mix of gravitas and dignity while he speaks Mandela’s eloquent words aloud (side note: we’ll leave it to those in the know to decide whether or not Elba’s accent is convincing or inauthentic-sounding).
Starring opposite Elba in Long Walk to Freedom is Naomie Harris (Skyfall) as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson’s second wife. The couple had separated after more than 30 years of marriage – prior to Nelson’s ascension to office in the first proper democratic election in South Africa – but did not divorce until a couple years into his term. Winnie is a fascinating politician in her own right, even though she has a troubled history that includes allegations of human rights abuse from the late 1980s (and multiple convictions for fraud in 2003). Hopefully, the new Mandela biopic will take some time to explore beneath the surface of Winnie’s persona (as presented to the public), in addition to her former husband’s character.
If nothing else, Winnie plays a large-enough role in Long Walk Freedom to justify getting her own poster, as you can see below (via Empire):
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Previously-released films have attempted to dramatize portions of Mandela’s life, but even directors like Clint Eastwood (Invictus) have only been partly successful with their efforts. Long Walk to Freedom is based upon Mandela’s 656 page-long autobiography of the same name, with the adapted screenplay written by two-time Oscar-nominee William Nicholson – whose resume includes Gladiator, Elizabeth: The Golden Age and Les Misérables – and direction by Justin Chadwick, who was a TV helmer on shows like EastEnders and MI-5 before his feature-length debut with The Other Boleyn Girl in 2008.
The leads in Long Walk to Freedom are excellent, but the folk working behind the camera has occasionally been guilty of turning what is prime historical material into uninteresting cinematic drama. We shall have to wait and see what happens in this case, but here is hoping for the best anyway.
What do you think about the Long Walk to Freedom teaser trailer? Does this film have the makings of a great awards-season contender, or are you worried that it’ll prove to be a flaccid treatment of 20th century history?
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom begins a limited theatrical release in the U.S. on November 29th, 2013. It will open in U.K. theaters on January 3rd, 2014.