Terrence Howard and Jennifer Hudson in 'Winnie Mandela' (Photo: Image/RLJ Entertainment)
It first screened two years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival, but it would appear that "Winnie Mandela" wasn't worth the wait.
The biography film chronicles the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (Jennifer Hudson, Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for "Dreamgirls"), from her strict rural upbringing by a father who was disappointed that she wasn't a boy through becoming one of the most prominent anti-apartheid activists in the world, known as 'Mother of the Nation' to her followers. The film is directed by Darrell Roodt ("Sarafina!," "Cry, the Beloved Country") and based on Anne Marie du Preez Bezrob's acclaimed book, "Winnie Mandela: A Life," though apparently something's been lost in the translation from page to screen.
The film's fractured and unfocused screenplay seems to be the main problem, with Sheri Linden at the Los Angeles Times saying the film "shoehorns an exceptional life into the standard template of a highlights reel, lurching from one Important Moment to the next." Rick Groen at the Globe and Mail says it lacks even the cohesion of a highlights reel and that the film "begins as hagiography and ends in hellish confusion."
Andrew Schenker of Time Out feels that the film also has major problems in tone and characterization, with Winnie coming across as a "confused, possibly deranged individual" after she begins to take stances that put her at odds with her imprisoned husband Nelson (Terrence Howard, Oscar-nominated for 2006's "Hustle & Flow") and is implicated in a murder. It's a twist that "doesn't so much probe the situation's ambiguities as reflect the filmmaker's uncertainty about how to properly portray a major historical figure in all her troubling complexity." And Aisha Harris of The Dissolve agrees that the film has a confused agenda at best, saying it "suffers from clunky dialogue and shallow characterization, all while never deciding what to make of its leading lady."
Jennifer Hudson is getting mixed reviews for her lead performance, with Sheri Linden at the Los Angeles Times saying she "has strong moments during Winnie's soul-testing solitary confinement, and she communicates her steeliness, fire and commitment" but ultimately doesn't have "the acting chops to suggest complexities despite the material's shallowness."
Rick Groen at the Globe and Mail feels that Hudson drops the ball at the most crucial moment in the narrative, when Nelson is detained: "This should be Hudson’s green light to up the poignancy levels. Instead, perhaps distracted by her here-and-gone attempts to maintain the indigenous accent, she settles for a bruised face and a vacant stare — the one borrowed from the makeup department, the other all her own."
Sherilyn Connelly at the Village Voice is a fan, though, saying the film's "main strength is its performances" and that Hudson "embodies a woman who grew up fighting boys with sticks, and never really stopped."
"Winnie Mandela" (originally titled simply "Winnie") had its premiere in rough form at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 16, 2011. It's only now getting a U.S. theatrical release this week, probably to coincide with the growing buzz for director Justin Chadwick's "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," which screens at TIFF this Saturday. That film, starring Idris Elba as Nelson and Naomie Harris as Winnie, is expected to be very popular with the Academy and will get a limited U.S. release on November 29.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Winnie Mandela
- Jennifer Hudson