For such a widely revered public figure, Nelson Mandela was oddly underrepresented when it came to major motion pictures. The South African leader, who passed away yesterday at age 95, was portrayed only a handful of times, mostly in marginal fare that barely registered critically or commercially. Part of this probably has to do with the unusual contours of his long life, 27 years of which were spent in prison -- daunting subject matter from the perspective of a filmmaker, who must place those decades in context.
The latest attempt to render Mandela's life and legacy on the big screen comes from director Justin Chadwick, in the form of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," a biopic that we got to see earlier this year at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Star Idris Elba brings a lot of conviction to the challenging role, giving Mandela great depth and shying away from the easy inclination to represent him as a peerless role model. As "Mandela" makes very clear, the man was not perfect. But he strove for greatness and often achieved it.
In terms of biographies of the icon, "Long Walk to Freedom" is easily the fullest attempt yet at capturing what made Mandela such a captivating leader, with attention given to the passions that fueled both his personal and professional lives.
Morgan Freeman also delivers a truly memorable performance as Mandela in Clint Eastwood's oddly underrated movie "Invictus," which explores the unrest simmering in mid-'90s South Africa through the lens of rugby.
Other actors to play the anti-apartheid revolutionary include Danny Glover in 1987's "Mandela," Dennis Haysbert in "Goodbye Bafana" (2007), and Terrence Howard in this year's "Winnie Mandela," about Mandela's controversial ex-wife. Click through the gallery below for photos from these films.