Pathe International has come on board for the Nelson Mandela biopic, described as “the largest South African production ever mounted.”

Pathe Pictures has acquired most international rights to Anant Singh’s long-gestating Nelson Mandela biopic Long Walk to Freedom.

Pathe/Fox will distribute in the UK and France and Pathe will handle rights throughout the rest of the world excluding North America and Africa.

Idris Elba is confirmed as Mandela and Justin Chadwick will direct, as Screen reported previously.

Singh’s company Distant Horizon today announced that the film will begin principal photography on May 26. The story spans Mandela’s life from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected President of South Africa. Bill Nicholson wrote the screenplay.

Singh produces with David Thompson of Origin Pictures.

There was no confirmation of other cast, though Screen understands that Skyfall actress Naomie Harris has been in talks to play Winnie Mandela.

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The 15-week shoot will take place where the drama originally unfolded, taking in the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal, as well as the infamous Robben Island, Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prisons where Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years.

Cameron McCracken, managing director of Pathé UK, said: “I have been aware of Anant’s obsession with this project for the past 15 years - it reminded me of Richard Attenborough’s 20 year struggle to get Gandhi made – I can think of nothing more satisfying than finally to be part of Anant’s dream becoming a reality.  The life of Nelson Mandela deserves to be celebrated on the biggest of screens in the biggest of multiplexes!” 

Anant Singh, CEO of Distant Horizon said: “We are delighted finally to be in pre-production onLong Walk to Freedom. It will be the largest South African production ever mounted and will provide an opportunity for thousands of South Africans to participate in the making of the film, including the best of South Africa’s acting talent. It has taken many years to find the right actor, however Idris is perfectly cast to play Nelson Mandela – he has the passion, the star power, the African upbringing and, of course, the height!  We are thrilled that Idris’s brilliant performance is going to be brought to the public by our friends at Pathé, who have steered such global successes as The Queen, Slumdog Millionaire and The Iron Lady.”