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Idris Elba, Naomie Harris at the Center of ‘Mandela’ Awards Talk

Awards season was in full swing Wednesday with events for every taste, but “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” offered world politics, world-class acting and a touch of class.

The film’s greatest strengths are the performances of Idris Elba and Naomie Harris as Nelson and Winnie Mandela. Because the awards categories are so jam-packed, these two are sometimes relegated to the “also possible” category, but for the crowd at the Academy’s Goldwyn Theater at a multi-guild screening, these two belong at the center of any conversation.

The touch of class came from Zindzi Mandela, who is poised, charming and a great ambassador for the Weinstein Co. release. Before the screening, she told Variety that she’d seen it four times. Though her father has been portrayed many times on film and TV, earlier versions always concentrated on portions of his remarkable history, “but this is the first time to show his entire life. And I am so happy that the movie gets all the key moments right.”

Part of that is due to producer Anant Singh, who told Variety he’s been an Academy member for 22 years, and spent nearly that long to get the movie made. Over the years, it went through 55 drafts, with final onscreen credit to William Nicholson and direction by Justin Chadwick.

Singh and Zindzi Mandela are on a global trek, world premiering the film Sunday in South Africa, then Monday at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome, then jetting to New York for its Thursday preem. South Africa was especially a “phenomenal, emotional reaction” because many people portrayed in the film were in the audience. The pic opens a limited run at Thanksgiving in New York and L.A., then broadens on Christmas Day.

It’s one of those “they don’t make ’em like they used to” films, spanning decades of tumultuous politics and family drama, with huge crowd scenes, lush vistas and meticulous BTL work. It should be considered in many categories, but the film’s unquestionable talking points are the work of Elba and Harris.

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