Mrs Mandela Review: Coming Out Fighting
MRS MANDELA: Monday 25th January, BBC4, 9pm ALERT ME
“Don’t mess with the Mandelas” was my instant thought after watching this fact-based drama which charts how Winnie Mandela rose from adoring wife, to political activist during her husband’s 27 year imprisonment.
The title reflects her views on the marriage, “You end up living in his shadow” – but this revolutionary most definitely shines.
The drama itself is comprised of certain periods in Winnie’s life, though not in chronological order (worth mentioning to avoid confusion). The first scenes show the release of Nelson Mandela and intimate moments between the two, which humanise the couple beyond their name. Granted, having an in-depth discussion about freedom fighting in bed is not your usual, but the chemistry between the two actors (David Harewood and Sophie Okonedo) is believable and revealing.
We then jump to her visiting Nelson in prison, under the supervision of officials, where she could only discuss her immediate family. A brave feat for a woman who was in exile for eight years during this time and under constant interrogation surrounding illegal political activity.
“Never let them see you cry,” she tells her daughter in response to the police. In fact, it’s not until 50 minutes in that Winnie breaks down and hits the vodka. For a woman so stubborn, you feel privileged as a viewer to be let into her private world, however harrowing.
The scenes where she is interrogated by Major Theunis Swanepoel (David Morrissey), the prison guard who inflicted terrible punishments on Winnie, are filled with just the right amount of suspense for a good drama. Although you don’t see any violence, the threats he delivers fuel the tension and keep you glued to the box.
Sophie Okonedo portrays Winnie Mandela’s strength – combined with her emotional vulnerability – very convincingly, at times you fear removing your eyes from the screen. A true reflection of how the political activist demanded attention and won over support.
“I am not a political ornament,” she tells her husband after he is released from prison. This independence soon becomes riddled with conspiracies as she is accused of assaulting a young boy. This all makes for a dramatic crescendo that’s well worth the wait.