Movie review – Not enough Winnie

2014-03-09 14:00

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Far too much Nelson and not nearly enough Winnie.

That’s the best summary I can muster for Darrell Roodt’s Winnie Mandela.

It didn’t feel like a movie. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was catching up on the Sunday omnibus of a moderately interesting soap opera that should probably have been cancelled years ago.

Although the film’s title contains her name, it didn’t tell me nearly enough about one of the most divisive, fascinating women in South Africa’s apartheid story.

The first section focuses on the love story between bright-eyed, determined young Madikizela, a social worker in training in Johannesburg, and Mandela, the hotshot lawyer who has the government worried and black South Africans thinking about freedom and equality.

Courtship, marriage, yawn.

I came away resolving to read Madikizela-Mandela’s prison diary, 491 Days, because the best parts of this movie involved her time in solitary confinement.

Jennifer Hudson, who plays Winnie, surprised me here and I even forgot for a while that I was watching an actress playing a role.

She captured the strange, almost schizophrenic, experience of a woman being irrevocably broken while becoming stronger – and she did it with heart and guts.

For the rest of the time, sadly, she was a beautiful woman with a bad South African accent who didn’t show me anything new.

She also had to play in the shadow of Terrence Howard, who was a physically compelling Nelson Mandela, but whose accent nearly had me stuffing popcorn in my ears. When he referred to his wife’s soccer club as “shotshis”, I briefly lost the will to live.

It all felt too jerky and episodic and, as a result, infuriatingly unsatisfying.

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