Idris Elba's 'Mandela' to meet the Queen as this year's Royal Film Performance

Posted by · 9:42 am · October 10th, 2013

The Weinstein Company’s “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” landed with a bit of a thud at Toronto.  Idris Elba may have received respectable reviews for his performance as the freedom fighter who became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, as did Naomie Harris as his controversial wife, Winnie. But early, trailer-assisted fears that the film would turn out to be a stodgy, Wikipedia-style biopic were largely borne out by the reviews, swiftly cutting the film’s awards hopes down to a long-shot Best Actor bid for Elba and little more. 

Still, the show must go on, and the film’s profile just received a bit of a boost with the news that it’s been selected as this year’s annual Royal Film Performance — an annual charity fundraiser screening attended by the Royal Family that has been a fixture on the British industry calendar since 1946. The Performance takes place on December 5 in (where else?) London’s Leicester Square — one week after its US release, though nearly a month before it bows in the UK.

“We are thrilled to be able to host the Royal Premiere of this momentous South African/British co-production,” said Barry Jenkins, president of the event’s benefiting charity, the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund.

The selection of “Mandela” for the occasion is an unsurprising one — fun as it would have been to make the Royals squirm through “Diana,” had it only not been released so early. Films selected for the occasion are generally required to be conservative, reasonably wholesome and not overly high-minded, often (though not always) with a British element. This is not the moment to test the Windsors’ boundaries with “Under the Skin,” in other words.

As a noble, nutritious prestige film with a beloved local star in the lead — and taking into account the Royal Family’s personal acquaintance with its subject — “Mandela” fits the bill neatly enough, regardless of its aesthetic merits.

The Royal Film Performance has something of a mixed record: for every enduring classic that has taken the slot (inaugural selection “A Matter of Life and Death,” “West Side Story,” “Titanic”), there’s another title that’s rightly gathering dust (“White Nights,” “True Blue,” “Ladies in Lavender”). Recently, they’ve been especially hit-and-miss: “Hugo” and “Casino Royale” were well-regarded picks, “The Lovely Bones” and “The Other Boleyn Girl,” not so much. (Last year’s selection was “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”; I guess simply following up with “The Desolation of Smaug” would have been too easy.)

With that in mind, something tells me “Mandela” won’t be among the more affectionately remembered selections, but for now, it’s a nice feather in the film’s cap — and a handy photo opportunity for Elba as he tries to claw back some ground in the crowded Best Actor race. If nothing else, at least he gets to shake hands with the Queen.

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