But for the most part it is an exhilarating history lesson, told by a first-rate teacher. Director Justin Chadwick learned his trade in television, and directed the acclaimed BBC drama serial Bleak House before graduating to cinema, with The Other Boleyn Girl. So he knows how to evoke a strong, heavily atmospheric sense of period, and does so stylishly here. True love comes to Mandela, with Winnie (another British star, Naomie Harris) introduced as an admiring face in the crowd during one of his political speeches The film opens in the Transkei Hills with the teenage Mandela and other boys in the Xhosa tribe being initiated into manhood, a scene that might be any year in any century, but then the story shifts to Johannesburg, where the cars, clothes and even more usefully, a caption fix the time as 1942. Mandela (British actor Idris Elba) is by now a dynamic young lawyer. As he crosses a busy road, a white woman snaps: Get out of my way, boy. It is the first sign that his country is riven with racial prejudice, and William Nicholsons screenplay quickly serves up some more choice examples of mans inhumanity to man: a black youth kicked to a pulp by Afrikaaner policemen, yet whose cause of death is given as congenital syphilis; a legal system in which white witnesses will not answer questions asked by black advocates; a culture in which the crudest imaginable test, whether or not a pencil can be pushed into the hair and stay put, determines whether a person is officially black or coloured. Elba captures Mandela’s incredible aura and preternatural strength of character and, with the help of make-up and prosthetics, just about pulling off 52 years of ageing Our familiarity with the iniquities of apartheid does not blunt the impact of all this, and nor does a kind of moral monochrome, whereby blacks are depicted as good and whites as bad. There arent many shades of grey.
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10, 2013. (Matt Dunham/AP) Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, second left, Nelson Mandela’s former wife, and Mandela’s window Graca Machel, right, listen to speeches during the memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013. (Matt Dunham/AP)
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Nelson Mandela Dead: Former South African President Dies At 95
(Photo credit should read GIDEON MENDEL/AFP/Getty Images) Nelson Mandela 1918-2013 Winnie Mandela (C), leaves the Palace of Justice in Pretoria 16 June 1964 with her fist clenched, after the verdict of the Rivonia Trial was given, sentencing eight men, including her husband anti-apartheid leader and member of the African National Congress (ANC) Nelson Mandela, to life imprisonment. The men were charged with conspiracy, sabotage and treason. (Photo credit should read OFF/AFP/Getty Images) Nelson Mandela 1918-2013 African women demonstrate in front of the Law Courts in Pretoria, 16 June 1964, after the verdict of the Rivonia trial, in which eight men, among them anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. The eight men were accused of conspiracy, sabotage and treason. (Photo credit should read OFF/AFP/Getty Images) Nelson Mandela 1918-2013 Eight men, among them anti-apartheid leader and African National Congress (ANC) member Nelson Mandela, sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia trial leave the Palace of Justice in Pretoria 16 June 1964 with their fists raised in defiance through the barred windows of the prison car. The eight men were accused of conspiracy, sabotage and treason. (Photo credit should read OFF/AFP/Getty Images) Nelson Mandela