Winnie Mandela Blu-ray Review

I thought it almost eerie that I received this disc to review the same day it was announced that former South African President Nelson Mandela had passed away.  The great man has already been immortalized on film; Morgan Freeman earned an Academy Award nomination for portraying him in director Clint Eastwood’s INVICTUS while, later this year, Idris Elba will portray him in the biographical film MANDELA, based on his biography.  But what about his wife, Winifred?  WINNIE MANDELA attempts to inform but it’s almost movie-of-the-week portrayal of both the title character and her future husband doesn’t really do them justice.

Jennifer Hudson in Winnie Mandela

Born the sixth daughter of the village teacher, Winifred (Hudson) tries her best to be the boy her father so desperately wanted.  However, when not fighting local boys with sticks, she is also an outstanding student, and her education takes her off to school in Johannesburg, where the true evils of apartheid, somewhat shielded from Winnie in her village, rear their ugly head.  Graduating with top marks she stuns her classmates by continuing her education in Soweto, turning down a chance to study in the United States.  While in Soweto she comes across a rally being addressed by a young lawyer named Nelson Mandela (Howard).  Their eyes meet and, after a couple of clumsy attempts, he manages to convince her to go to dinner.  His life is not easy.  He is constantly being watched and harassed by the government police, led by the nasty Colonel de Vries (Elias Koteas).  They eventually marry, which causes Winnie to lose her job.  After Nelson is arrested she becomes more vocal in the movement and soon finds herself spending seven months in solitary confinement.  Once released she is repeatedly harassed and intimidated by the same people that put her husband in jail.  Will she overcome her oppressors?  Of course, if you know anything about history you know the answer already.

Jennifer Hudson in Winnie Mandela

In spite of the strong performances by both Howard and Hudson, the film suffers from a weak script better suited for a Lifetime Channel movie of the week.  Hudson performs with a quiet strength, making Winnie a character to root for.  Howard is just as good, capturing the stature and vocal inflections of Nelson Mandela perfectly.  If only they had been given material that was up to their talents.  Too many sun-drenched backgrounds and newspaper montages make it seem like the film is skirting too many issues.  It is well documented that Winnie Mandela herself protested the making of this film when it was being shot in South Africa, upset that she had not been consulted on what purported to be a film about her life.  This upset many in South Africa and perhaps the filmmakers felt it best not to show a lot of the nasty truths that took place during apartheid.  Either way, both Winnie and Nelson deserved better.

Jennifer Hudson in Winnie Mandela

If you’re a fan of either Terrence Howard or Jennifer Hudson, you might want to give this film a look.  If not, you may want to catch MANDELA at your local multiplex.


Video:  Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the video presentation is one of the high points of the disc.  The beautiful, sun-lit South African countryside is captured in all of its glory here.

Audio:  Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the soundtrack is well produced.  Outside scenes encompass the sounds of nature beautifully, making some of the film seem like a travelogue.

The Making of Winnie Mandela (23:15):  An in-depth featurette detailing the making of the film featuring interviews with cast and crew and scenes from the film.


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