Full Nel­son as film world grap­ples with liv­ing le­gend’s legacy

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - BOOKS - TONY EARN­SHAW

WHEN Mor­gan Free­man took on the role of Nel­son Man­dela in In­vic­tus the smart money was on him win­ning an Os­car. He was nom­i­nated – and then Jeff Bridges bagged it for Crazy Heart. C’est la vie. Free­man has of­ten laughed about the grav­i­tas he brings to his roles. Cer­tainly he brought all of it to the ta­ble as Man­dela, a role many claim is un­playable.

Now, in a move typ­i­cal of the film world, two Man­dela movies are at the start­ing gate. The first, Win­nie, stars Ter­rence Howard as Man­dela and Jennifer Hud­son as his sec­ond wife Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela. The sec­ond, Man­dela: Long Walk to Freedom, stars Idris Elba and Naomie Har­ris as Nel­son and Win­nie.

Win­nie was com­pleted two years ago and played, some­what un­suc­cess­fully, at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val be­fore be­ing put on the back burner. It has also come in for crit­i­cism from Win­nie Man­dela her­self.

Man­dela: Long Walk to Freedom can be seen as the of­fi­cial por­trait. A 17-year pro­ject for pro­ducer Anant Singh, it has been com­pleted with the co-op­er­a­tion of Man­dela’s fam­ily and his foun­da­tion.

It is only co­in­ci­dence that pits th­ese two pic­tures against one an­other. And with Mor­gan Free­man’s film still loom­ing in the re­cent past they are not the first at­tempts at cap­tur­ing the essence of this liv­ing le­gend. He has also been played by Sid­ney Poitier, Dennis Hays­bert and David Hare­wood.

What comes across clearly is that th­ese are movies de­signed for western au­di­ences. The var­i­ous lead­ing men are Amer­i­can or English. To sell tick­ets in the US and the UK a South African ac­tor – such as Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, who played Man­dela on stage – would never do.

Howard and Elba are play­ing the young Man­dela – the firebrand, the hus­band and fa­ther, the ac­tivist, the po­lit­i­cal pris­oner. Man­dela: Long Walk to Freedom was di­rected by Man­cu­nian Justin Chad­wick, the man be­hind The Other Bo­leyn Girl. It is re­port­edly the most ex­pen­sive South African movie ever made, with those who have seen it point­ing to Elba’s as a re­mark­able per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of an ex­tra­or­di­nary man.

Dar­rell Roodt, di­rec­tor of Win­nie, has al­leged that his film was bru­tally re-edited, re­mov­ing much of the de­tail. But per­haps in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences don’t wish to get too bogged down in 50 years of South African pol­i­tics. And maybe telling Man­dela’s story from his wife’s per­spec­tive is not a win­ner. Which brings us back to Idris Elba and Naomie Har­ris. The word is that Chad­wick has been scrupu­lous in his at­ten­tion to de­tail, even down to recre­at­ing Man­dela’s cell on Robben Is­land. And what of Man­dela him­self? Hos­pi­talised again, he will be 95 on July 18. One hopes he at least will be able to rally suf­fi­ciently to give his opin­ion on the ri­val English­man and Amer­i­can seek­ing to put their cin­e­matic stamp on his legacy.

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