Luther star Idris Elba to play Nelson Mandela

A big-screen adaptation of Long Walk to Freedom will begin production in May

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A big-screen adaptation of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, will begin filming in May, with Luther star Idris Elba in the central role.

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The rights for the project were acquired 15 years ago by South African producer Anant Singh when – in the face of competition from US studios – Mandela entrusted him with his life story.

The movie, which will dramatise Mandela’s journey from his childhood in a rural village to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of South Africa, will have a screenplay by Bill Nicholson (Sarfina!, Gladiator, Les Misérables) and is to be directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl).

Singh, who will produce the film with David Thompson, said: “We are delighted finally to be in pre-production on Long Walk to Freedom. It has taken many years to find the right actor, however Idris is perfectly cast to play Nelson Mandela – he has the passion, the star power, the African upbringing and, of course, the height!”

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Elba is not the first actor to have portrayed Mandela on TV or film. Mandela and De Klerk (1997), starring Sidney Poitier, told the story of Mandela’s release from prison, while Clint Eastwood’s Invictus (2009) featured Morgan Freeman in the role. Most recently, BBC4’s Mrs Mandela (2010) cast David Harewood as Nelson Mandela, with Sophie Okonedo as his former wife, Winnie.