Idris Elba Makes a Very Good Nelson Mandela

Slate's Culture Blog
July 19 2013 4:03 PM

Idris Elba Makes a Very Good Nelson Mandela

elba_mandela
Idris Elba plays Nelson Mandela in the upcoming Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

From Youtube

The official trailer for MandelaLong Walk to Freedom, due in theaters Nov, 29, was released last night. There’s more detail here than in the dizzying, voiceover-laden teaser released previously, and we finally see how the film approaches the South African icon’s rebellion, imprisonment, and subsequent presidency:

First impressions: K’naan’s “Wavin’ Flag” seems to be South Africa’s new unofficial anthem—after a run as the promotional song for the country’s 2010 World Cup, it’s employed here to somewhat corny effect. Idris Elba’s gravitas and charisma, though, are undeniable in the lead role. He also has Mandela’s accent down pat, capturing all its deep, Xhosa-tinged undertones (unlike Morgan Freeman’s often-shaky execution in 2009’s Invictus).

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Judging from the trailer, it seems as if the film will play up Mandela’s courtship of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, an icon in her own right, as well as his involvement with the African National Congress’s guerrilla tactics against the oppressive apartheid regime. The trailer also offers a glimpse of what appears to be the infamous Rivonia trial, which ended with Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment. He would go on to spend almost three decades on Robben Island and in other jails across the country.

Will this film escape the fate of previous Mandela movies? Winnie, a 2011 drama featuring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard, was widely panned on the festival circuit, though it recently acquired a distributor and will be released this fall—criticism of the film centered on its refusal to involve Madikizela-Mandela during the production process. Mandela seems to have the better chance of success, as it’s based on the man’s own words: The film is an adaptation of Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela’s 1994 autobiography. That book dealt mostly with Mandela’s early years as a political activist and his imprisonment, devoting only a few late chapters to his rise to the presidency. It remains to be seen whether the film will do the same, or if it will take some creative liberties to enhance its already-strong Oscar chances.

Sharan Shetty is a writer for Brow Beat. You can follow him on Twitter