"I have walked a long walk to freedom. It has been a lonely road and it is not over yet."
20th Century Fox are to release a bio-pic in January that is sure to be a big contender come Oscar time. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has every chance to rank alongside the likes of Gandhi and The Last Emperor as Oscar-winning bio-pics and both were produced by British producers, Richard Attenborough and Jeremy Thomas respectively. No pressure then!
David Thompson, along with Anant Singh, is producing the picture. Thompson headed up BBC Films for many years where he added to his hugely impressive slate, which includes films as diverse as Billy Elliot, Iris, Eastern Promises, The Duchess and An Education.
Thompson and Singh have worked together before including Sarafina! and The First Grader, and acquired the rights from Nelson Mandela to film his story some 15 years ago. The duo's hard work is finally ready to pay dividends as they ready themselves to unveil the results of their labour. Lord Attenborough's Gandhi also suffered a long gestation period before it reached the screen - 20 years - so that’s another good omen for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Salford born Director Justin Chadwick collaborated with Thompson on The Other Boleyn Girl and The First Grader and is working from a script from William Nicholson; who is no stranger to Oscar night himself with nominations for Shadowlands and Gladiator.
Many names had been touted to play Nelson Mandela since a film adaptation of his biography was mooted; actors such as Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman (who did in fact play him in Clint Eastwood's Invictus) and Will Smith. However the actor with the daunting task of portraying the former South African President is Idris ‘John Luther’ Elba.
British born Elba's big break came via American TV with his performance as the drug kingpin, Stringer Bell in 'The Wire'. Such was his immersion in the role many believed him to be American and when appearing on chat shows audiences were shocked to hear his London accent.
Elba approached the role by reading Mandela's biography rather than meeting the former ANC leader and his performance in the footage we've seen thus far is uncanny.
The accent is nailed down. Elba would be the first to admit that he does not resemble Mandela, but as with so many acclaimed biographies it is about grasping the essence of the character, and boy does he! Combined with the power, emotion and aura of Mandela it is a stunning portrayal.
Of his work in the film the actor had this to say, "It meant so much to me, it's such a massive opportunity to be part of a true legend's life, and more importantly, the film re-educates people on this legend. I never met Mr. Mandela because he was very ill, so our interpretation of him was without his personal influence. But the script is such a good script, and obviously it comes from his book, and the book speaks for itself."
Starring alongside Elba is former Bond girl, Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela, a role she has said is her toughest to date. "For me, that was the most challenging role that I've ever played and I absolutely loved playing her - right from this innocent woman to this warrior figure. That journey for me was the most challenging that I've ever done and I've enjoyed that the most".
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom opens at Showcase Cinemas in January 2014