A long-awaited movie on Nelson Mandela’s life, which will premiere in South Africa on Sunday, has been described as a “very emotional” and accurate portrayal by one of his daughters.
The movie “Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom”, largely based on his autobiography of the same name, traces the life of the anti-apartheid icon from his childhood in the rural Eastern Cape to his election as the country’s first black president in 1994.
The release comes as South Africa remains on edge about the health of the 95-year-old peace icon who spent three months in hospital in a critical condition with a lung infection this year.
He has been receiving intensive care at his Johannesburg home since being discharged on September 1, and updates on his health from government and family have been sporadic.
Former government minister Tokyo Sexwale, who like Mandela was imprisoned by the white-minority apartheid regime, reassured journalists in a press conference ahead of the premiere.
“So all of you are wondering where is he. Madiba says of his state of health ‘I am not ill, I am just old’,” Sexwale said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
“So, he is fine, he is out of hospital, he is back at home, that much is known. But his spirit is with us.”
Zindzi Mandela, 53, one of Mandela’s daughters with ex-wife Winnie Mandela, praised the realistic, but very emotional, portrayal of her father’s life in the two and a half hour film.
British actress Naomie Harris (l) who plays the role of Winnie Mandela in the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom poses with Mandela’s daughter Zindzi near a poster of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on November 2, 2013 after a press conference. AFP
“It was very emotional to watch it. Honestly it was very difficult… At the same time, the love that kept the family together comes through in the film. And the fact that my father left…and my mother continued the struggle,” said Zindzi, who grew up while her father was in jail.
‘It made me weep and weep’
Zindzi said she found South African producer Anant Singh’s “ability to summarise so many life experiences of my father, my mother and ourselves simply incredible”.
At one point while Mandela was in jail, Zindzi’s mother Winnie had been arrested and placed in solitary confinement for over a year by the apartheid government.
“There is a scene where my sister and I are left alone at home because my mother has been locked up and my sister is looking after me, like trying to make us breakfast and so on.
“It made me weep and weep because it was so true. And we had those moments of loneliness where we found there is nobody for us and it was very bleak and no hope of anybody coming to our rescue.
“And just that scene alone took me to the various episodes in my life where I just felt the absence of a father, of a mother and of a normal family life.”
Mandela spent 27 years in jail for activism against the racist regime, and left his jail cell preaching equality and forgiveness in the bitterly divided nation, winning him worldwide admiration as a peace icon.
In his memoir on which the film is based, Mandela spoke of his guilt at putting his country’s political struggle before his family.
“In South Africa it is hard for a man to ignore the needs of the people, even at the expense of his own family,” he wrote.
In one letter to his young daughters he frets about not knowing the details of their lives, like who fed them, bought them clothing, and looked after them during school holidays.
The epic historical saga’s film-makers said they had delved into the archives at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory as part of their effort to ensure that the movie was authentic.
“What (the film) tries to do is to show the men and women behind the scene, the spirit of the people, the story,” said British director Justin Chadwick.
“Our approach is to try to understand the character of men and women and not these icons we all know about. And just to make a film that is about family, about love, about forgivness.”
The movie will hit South African cinemas on November 28 and will be released in the United States in December.
Mandela is played by British actor Idris Elba, 41 and Winnie by British actress Naomie Harris.
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