Director, Justin Chadwick acknowledges that he faced an enormous challenge in making a movie not just about one of the most revered statesmen of the 20th Century, but also an international icon and a most loved individual. “My instincts told me that I should concentrate the story on him as a man. When I met his daughters and other people who were close to him and I discussed my approach to the film, all of them stressed: “Yes, treat him like a man. Tell the story of him as a man”.
“The most informative for me was Anant’s input. Over the extensive period in which he put this film together he formed deep and honest relationships with people who were involved in the anti-apartheid struggle. Anant sent me huge parcels of books and amazing imagery from this period – I have a bookcase full of material! Likewise, the Nelson Mandela Foundation has done a formidable job in cataloguing that period of history and allowed me open access to it. I’ve viewed very shocking footage that has been broadcast, but also material that has never been seen, such as uncut interviews with Winnie and Madiba. (Mandela’s clan name).
“Although I knew the film I wanted to make, I was very conscious - as a native of Manchester - of coming from ‘the outside’ and I listened to Madiba’s comrades and those close to him and that helped me find my way into the film. Because his autobiography is a very sprawling book, one could make a 24-part mini-series and still not do it justice I wanted this to be a cinematic experience to take place in one viewing, so I believed it needed a point of view - rather than an extended story from him as a little boy to being an old man. It’s just too much. So it was really through those personal conversations that I was able to get the emotion into the story.”
“When Anant first talked to me about the project, he stressed that the centre of the story was the human narrative; the cost to the man, the cost to the family, and to his relationship with Winnie. As a filmmaker that seemed to be a way to focus the lens of the camera. Yes, we could remember those television images and the iconic moments when he was released from prison, but I wanted to take the camera behind the closed doors right before that moment, and his personal interaction with his daughters, and our screenwriter, William Nicholson, embraced that.”
“I think because the project had been worked on for such a long time there were great expectations about how his story would be told. Was it going to be a reverential biopic? Yes, of course we wanted to get the settings 100% authentic, but I was very set on approaching it as we would a modern movie; if there is a car chase in the story we would do it as we would in a modern movie. We wanted the film to have a visceral quality. Mandela’s life was a roller coaster, both before he went to prison, whilst he was in prison - his personal heartache at being torn away from his family - and after he was released when as a relatively old man he had to face a very violent time in South African history. We deal with all that in the film.”
“The way that we’ve made the film is going to entertain, and I think it’s going to shock a lot of people because, while the backdrop of his life was a most turbulent period of history, as a young man he was living fast, and what these men were doing in their fight for liberation was incredible; the film involves action sequences and hard-hitting drama and, at the heart of it, is a unique love story.”
“We incorporated that energy and dynamism into the film so that the audience is in the moment of those events and can really feel what it was like for Mandela and his comrades who were involved in it. We set out to get under the skin of the man, because many brilliant documentaries have been made from the outside looking in, but this isn’t about that. This is an audience gathering together in a cinema, and we want to give them a roller coaster ride - with all the emotion of loss and sacrifice, struggle and danger.”
“If you’re dealing with events that have shattered people’s lives, you can’t do anything other than your very best, and everybody on this production gave this film their 100% commitment. We owe it, because it is the official Mandela movie. But it’s so much more than just the Mandela family story, it’s about The Struggle and this is still very present in everybody’s lives today, you feel it when you’re on those streets with the people we were working with, you feel it from the crew; the struggle is still ongoing, and this film has to be worthy of those people.”