Naomi Harris and Idris Elba have much to celebrate lately; the actors--who portray Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Nelson Mandela in a new biopic--are seeing their performances praised by audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival and, more than that, have made fans out of the Mandelas themselves.
The film--"Mandlea: Long Walk To Freedom"--is an ambitious story helmed by Justin Chadwick and produced by Anant Singh and is the first movie about the iconic figures to be endorsed by the Mandela Foundation. Elba, who, with the aid of prosthetics stepped into the role beautifully, did such a good job that Nelson Mandela thought he was watching a clip of himself when he was shown early footage of the film.
"Mandela actually asked Anant Singh, our producer who showed him the clip, and he said: 'Is that me?'" Harris said. "And then when Anant explained that it was Idris but with prosthetics ... he started to laugh."
Harris is winning praise by critics for her portrayal of Winnie, who headed the African National Congress Women's League and was a strong force in Mandela's life throughout the many arrests and eventual imprisonment.
"The personal focus behind this trajectory is on Nelson’s sustaining love for his wife, played with grace and powerful anger by Harris," writes The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney. "Winnie steps into his life soon after the exit of his first wife (Terry Pheto), driven away by his womanizing. Undeterred by his track record, she informs him that she’s not like his other girls, and we believe her. Beneath the sweetness of this poised young beauty there’s an unyielding sense of purpose. This keeps her staunchly behind her husband’s radical activism even at great personal cost, but also hints at the ideological divide to come during the long years of Nelson’s incarceration."
Harris says it was extremely important to her to have the support of the Mandela family before filming began and was happy to learn that they were so generous about it.
"It doesn't bode well for me, and I think for a film, if you portray someone without asking for their blessing in making the film," she said. "The Mandelas — both Winnie and Mandela, who were asked to sanction the movie — they were very generous about it and they just said, 'Look, we want you to create the movie faithfully and truthfully, but we're not going to be involved.' And they were very hands-off about it. They didn't even read the script, because they trusted Anant and they trusted us to do a good job."
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