In the world of film, costume design is an art form that often goes unnoticed, yet it plays a pivotal role in transporting audiences to different eras and immersing them in the story. “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” the 2013 biographical film directed by Justin Chadwick, is a prime example of how period costume design can elevate a movie to a masterpiece. In this blog post, we delve into the remarkable costume work in the film and explore why it stands as a masterclass in period costume design.
Capturing the Essence of an Era:
Set against the backdrop of South Africa’s tumultuous apartheid era, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” spans several decades, from the 1940s to the 1990s. Costume designer Diana Cilliers faced the immense task of not only accurately depicting the changing fashion trends of each decade but also infusing the costumes with the political and social context of the time.
Authenticity in Every Stitch:
One of the standout aspects of the film’s costume design is its commitment to authenticity. Every costume in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” has been meticulously researched and crafted to ensure historical accuracy. From the iconic colorful shirts worn by Nelson Mandela (played by Idris Elba) to the period-specific attire of Winnie Mandela (portrayed by Naomie Harris), the costumes transport viewers back in time.
Character-Driven Costume Design:
Costumes in the film are not mere clothing; they are extensions of the characters themselves. They reflect the growth, transformation, and struggles of Nelson Mandela and Winnie Mandela as they navigate the complexities of their lives. The transition from the sharp suits of a young Mandela to the more casual, comfortable clothing of his imprisonment years is a testament to the character-driven approach to costume design.
In addition to historical accuracy, the costumes in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” are laden with subtle symbolism. Colours, patterns, and accessories are used strategically to convey messages about the characters’ emotions, motivations, and political affiliations. This attention to detail adds depth and complexity to the storytelling.
A Living Archive:
The costume department for this film was, in essence, a living archive of South African history. The team meticulously collected and preserved vintage clothing and accessories to ensure the utmost accuracy. Many of the costumes were even sourced from local South African vintage shops, contributing to the film’s authenticity.
“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is not only a powerful biographical film that chronicles the life of one of the world’s most iconic leaders but also a testament to the transformative power of period costume design. The costumes in the film do more than just dress the characters; they immerse viewers in the rich history, culture, and struggle of South Africa during the apartheid era. Diana Cilliers and her team’s dedication to authenticity, character-driven design, and subtle symbolism make this film a true masterclass in period costume design, reminding us of the profound impact that costumes can have on the storytelling experience.