"Winnie Mandela" is a 2011 film by director Darrell Roodt, known for his work on films such as "Cry, the Beloved Country" and "Prey." "Winnie Mandela" is a historical biography and drama that follows the life of Winnie Mandela, one of South Africa's most prominent and controversial political figures. The film tells the story of Winnie's life from her tough early childhood to her marriage to a world-famous political leader and activist. Jennifer Hudson stars as the film's titular character, Winnie, while Terrence Howard portrays her famous husband, Nelson Mandela. The onscreen chemistry between these two characters has generated significant buzz with the film's secondary release this year.
Unfortunately, "Winnie Mandela" was generally overlooked by all except a few discerning critics upon its original release in 2011. The film generated relatively little media attention despite its promising premise and beloved cast. Thanks to T.D. Jakes' efforts, "Winnie Mandela" was given a second chance and is now receiving the full critical acclaim it deserves. Much of the promotional campaign has revolved around the palpable chemistry between Howard and Hudson, two very different actors in very different stages of their career.
While Jennifer Hudson is a relative newcomer to the big screen, she has already made quite a stir with her groundbreaking performance in "Dream Girls." In that movie, Hudson portrayed a legendary songstress of the Civil Rights era, so period dramas are a strong suit for the young actress. Terrence Howard, on the other hand, is a film veteran with decades of experience both as a leading man and as a strong supporting actor. Howard has also starred in his fair share of historical dramas, most notably in "Red Tails" and "Their Eyes Were Watching God."
In "Winnie Mandela," Howard and Hudson play the legendary couple who changed the course of a nation. Amid the racial tension and divide of an apartheid era South Africa, Winnie and Nelson Mandela found each other and developed a bond that transcended the hatred that surrounded them. Although their love story is one of great struggle and conflict, it is also one of great passion and hope. These two firebrands often clashed with each other, but their differences produced romantic sparks as well. Nelson and Winnie had a whirlwind romance in their younger days, which Howard and Hudson capture masterfully. Hudson may be young and relatively new to the craft, but she is nonetheless a method actor capable of fully embodying whichever character she plays. Her performance as Winnie Mandela made this skill incredibly obvious, as she manages to portray the activist in a completely honest way.
The tension between Nelson and Winnie begins when Nelson is brutally abducted and arrested on the couple's honeymoon. The newlyweds had barely left the reception hall when they were forced to separate, and so began a life of political conflict and dealing with a corrupt government. The rest of the film chronicles Winnie's attempts to get her husband set free, including both her noble and controversial methods. At times, Winnie Mandela aligned herself with groups and people her husband would have undoubtedly shunned, but she never lost sight of her end goal and truly felt that the ends justified the means. As the film progresses, Winnie's dedication to her cause creates strife between her and her husband, adding another layer to the chemistry between them.
There are points throughout the film in which it becomes difficult to determine whether the relationship between Winnie and Nelson is adversarial or simply impassioned. It seems that Darrell Roodt wants audiences to understand that, in reality, their marriage had plenty of strife as well as love while it lasted and even beyond. The overall tone of the film is one of hope that the two revolutionary leaders will one day reunite. Regardless of what happened in real life, Howard and Hudson managed to portray these characters in such a brutally honest way that their love will be immortalized forever in the world of film. From the fiery early stages of their romance to the tumultuous years that Nelson spent in prison, both actors manage to portray the complex emotional dynamics behind such a difficult situation.
"Winnie Mandela" is the story of the woman behind one of the greatest men in recent history. Hudson brilliantly portrays this flawed and vibrant character, and her interactions with Howard breathe life into this historical romance. Fans of drama and history alike will enjoy this beautiful film for the gritty realism of the relationship it so accurately portrays.