Idris Elba's Nelson Mandela Biopic, ‘Long Walk to Freedom,' Gets a Start Date

FILM: Idris Elba
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Backed by South African producer Anant Singh’s Distant Horizon and French-owned, British-based production house Pathe, the movie will detail the former president’s life story.

LONDON – Golden Globe-winning actor Idris Elba (Luther, The Wire) has finally got the start date for his starring role as Nelson Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom, the long-gestating project backed by South African producer Anant Singh’s Distant Horizon and French-owned and British-based production house Pathe.

The backers said the feature, directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) and based on Mandela’s autobiography of the same name from a script by William Nicholson, will begin shooting May 26.

The movie will span Mandela’s life journey from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa. The story is described as a thrilling and ultimately joyous story of a good man triumphing against all odds.

Movie rights were acquired by Singh 15 years ago when -- in the face of fierce competition from U.S. studios -- Mandela entrusted him with his story. The film has come together with the full support and endorsement of Mandela, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

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A 15-week shoot will take place where the drama originally unfolded, taking in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal as well as the infamous Robben Island, Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prisons where Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years.

Singh will produce the film with Sarafina! co-producer David Thompson.

Pathe has acquired distribution rights in the U.K. and France and will handle sales throughout the rest of the world, excluding North America and Africa.

Pathe U.K. managing director Cameron McCracken said Singh’s long struggle to mount the movie reminds him of Richard Attenborough’s 20-year struggle to get the Oscar-winning Gandhi produced.

“The life of Nelson Mandela deserves to be celebrated on the biggest of screens in the biggest of multiplexes,” McCracken said.

Singh said: “It will be the largest South African production ever mounted and will provide an opportunity for thousands of South Africans to participate in the making of the film, including the best of South Africa’s acting talent.”