Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, a Nelson Mandela biopic presented at Toronto Film Festival, does not shy away from the less flattering aspects of his character, according to British star Idris Elba.
“It was important we had both sides, the good and the bad,” said Idris Elba.
Early scenes in Justin Chadwick’s film show Nelson Mandela as a womanizer who was violent to his first wife Evelyn.
“I didn’t want to deface Mr. Mandela in any way,” Idris Elba continued.
“But I didn’t want to portray him in a way that wasn’t honest.”
Idris Elba was speaking at the Toronto Film Festival, where Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom had its world premiere this weekend.
Based on the former South African president’s autobiography, the film charts his early life as a lawyer, his political activism and the 27 years of imprisonment that preceded his democratic election in 1994.
Naomie Harris plays Nelson Mandela’s second wife Winnie in Justin Chadwick’s two-and-a-half hour drama.
Nelson Mandela new biopic does not shy away from the less flattering aspects of the character
The film has had a mixed reception from critics, with one calling it “more dutifully reverential than revelatory or exciting”.
“We’ve seen the saintly Mandela we all know and love,” continued Idris Elba, who did not meet “Madiba” before embarking on the project.
“It was important for us to take the audience on a journey prior to that and understand who he was.”
Nelson Mandela, now 95, was released from hospital last week after three months of treatment for a recurring lung infection.
“Like everybody I’ve been very concerned for his health but I’ve been keeping optimistic,” Idris Elba told reporters on Sunday.
According to Justin Chadwick, Idris Elba was the right person for the biopic despite being from England and bearing little physical resemblance to its subject.
“There were other obvious choices, but Idris was the brave choice,” he said.
“He doesn’t look like Madiba, but we weren’t going for a lookalike, soundalike version.”
“Idris managed to capture the Mandela magic,” agreed Terry Pheto, the South African actress who plays Evelyn in the film.
Morgan Freeman, Danny Glover, David Harewood and Sidney Poitier are among the others to have portrayed Nelson Mandela on film and television.
Idris Elba, whose other films include summer blockbusters Thor and Pacific Rim, has been singled out for praise by critics who have seen the film in Toronto.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is one of several Toronto titles this year to draw their inspiration from real-life figures.
Julian Assange, Jimi Hendrix and Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts also feature in films in this year’s line-up.
The launch of Justin Chadwick’s film coincides with the UK release of Diana, a biographical drama about Princess Diana, that drew a withering response from the British media.
Venice Film Festival’s new artistic director Alberto Barbera has pledged to revive the event’s facilities and fortunes as this year’s festival gets under way.
There are questions over whether the event can continue to attract top talent and retain its position as one of the movie world’s leading festivals.
Alberto Barbera said a major new cinema complex would be built despite being abandoned in 2011 due to lack of funds.
He said: “We cannot host a modern event and attract film-makers without it.
“So yes, it has to happen. It was one of the conditions for me taking the role.
“We know we have this reputation for quality. It’s our greatest asset, and it’s a privileged position.”
Venice Film Festival's new artistic director Alberto Barbera has pledged to revive the event's facilities and fortunes as this year's festival gets under way
Alberto Barbera has cut the number of films being screened and has faced criticism over the number of stars attending this year.
Venice has come under increasing competition from the Toronto Film Festival, which overlaps with its Italian rival. Since the economic crash of 2008, Hollywood studios and celebrities have often preferred to show their movies there.
A new, state of the art cinema complex was due to open in Venice in 2012, but work was shelved last year when asbestos was discovered. That left a 100 ft crater next to the Palazzo Del Cinema.
But Alberto Barbera promised the new buildings would be finished by 2015.
“It’s a deal, it is signed and sealed,” he said.
“We will start work either later on in the year or in 2013.”
Local authorities, including the city of Venice, will now fund the renovations, he added.
Venice Film Festival is the oldest in the world, and will show more than 60 world premieres over the next 10 days, including Wednesday’s screening of Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, starring Kate Hudson and British actor Riz Ahmed.
Alberto Barbera, who used to head Italy’s Museum of Cinema at Turin, also said he had other plans to change the event, including introducing a five-day film market starting this year, and giving a first time film-making prize, which would involve the festival funding three movies by new directors.
The Observer film critic Jason Solomons blamed the exodus of top films and stars on the high cost of conducting press interviews in the city and accommodating film talent.
“A few years ago, Joe Wright’s Atonement had its world premiere at Venice,” he said.
“Now he’s made Anna Karenina, again starring Keira Knightley. It’s a period film all about decadence and decay, and it belongs in Venice. It should be here. But they can’t afford to launch it here now.”
Another problem, according to Jason Solomons, was the recent closure of the Hotel Des Bains on the Lido island – the setting for the 1971 film Death in Venice. The hotel is being turned into luxury flats.
“Death in Venice says it all,” Jason Solomons continues.
“By closing the Des Bains, the stars have nowhere to stay.”
Critics, though, still say they rate the festival highly. As well as The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the event will also show Tree of Life director Terence Malick’s To The Wonder and Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep.
Meanwhile, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix will star in The Master, the story of a religious cult during World War Two, directed by Magnolia‘s Paul Thomas Anderson.
“They’ve actually gone against the grain by reducing, not increasing, the amount of films on offer, and that’s brave,” suggested The Independent’s Kaleem Aftab.
“It looks like less will be more from now on in order for Venice to overcome the impression that this is a festival on the wane. But on paper, it’s delivered some big names this year.”