South Africans warm to Mandela movie, critics unimpressed

Fri Nov 29, 2013 6:56am EST
 
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By Ed Cropley

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - 'Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom' won rave reviews from South Africans who flocked to its opening night but critics were unimpressed, with one describing the latest biopic about the anti-apartheid leader as overly reverential ANC propaganda.

With South Africa's first black president now 95 and in poor health, cinema-goers were in emotional mood at Thursday's first airing of the 150-minute epic, which stars British actors Idris Elba as Mandela and Naomie Harris as his wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

"It was an extremely warm, emotional experience for me," said 42-year-old Seedat Tahera, praising the authentic feel of the movie, filmed partly in Soweto, the sprawling Johannesburg township at the heart of the struggle against white rule.

"I grew up in the streets of Alexandra township and for me every step that Mr Mandela took, it was as if I was taking that step again. It brought me great calmness and peace. I feel very loved and fortunate to be a South African."

Mandela, who became president in 1994 but stepped down after one term in office, gave independent South African producer Anant Singh the film rights to his 'Long Walk to Freedom' autobiography more than 15 years ago.

Much of the difficulty in bringing the book to the big screen was condensing a story stretching over six decades, including 27 years in prison, into a two-hour film script.

Singh and British director Justin Chadwick chose to focus on Mandela's fight against apartheid and the toll it took on his family. They also tried to show the good and the bad, including the embrace of violence that led to his life prison sentence.

But critics said it failed to do this and had instead become another cog in the myth-making machine that the African National Congress (ANC) and others have created around Mandela.   Continued...

 
Cast members Idris Elba and Naomie Harris pose at the premiere of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" in Los Angeles, California November 11, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni