On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela emerged from prison after 27 years of captivity, holding the hand of his wife Winnie. It was one of the defining moments of recent history, and Mandela has since become an icon of peace, tolerance and victory over oppression. But what of the woman whose hand he held?
Mrs Mandela opens on the day of Nelson’s release from Victor Vester prison. The global media are there to record the moment for posterity but, behind the public face of triumphant celebration, lies an inner turmoil, as Winnie is forced to question whether she can continue to play the loyal and faithful wife; whether it is possible to pick up their lives together after decades of separation.
The film flashes back to a time when things were very different – when Winnie and Nelson first meet. They marry after a brief courtship, but Nelson is soon forced to go underground.
His subsequent imprisonment leaves the beautiful young Winnie to fend for herself. These desperate times somehow give her the strength to become the woman that the apartheid state must try to destroy.
But Winnie resists everything the state can throw at her, from repeated raids on her house, 13 months of solitary confinement and banishment from her home in Soweto to the remote town of Brandfort.
The film also depicts in unflinching detail the five days of continuous interrogation she suffered at the hands of the infamous Major Swanepoel.
Mrs Mandela weaves through time and history, exploring moments from the Fifties to 1990, to get to the emotional core of this remarkable, yet highly controversial, woman.
She drew on massive inner resources to steel herself against the brutality of the apartheid state, but did her experiences create a well of pain and bitterness that kindled a darker side in her personality?
Sophie Okonedo is Winnie Mandela, David Harewood is Nelson Mandela and David Morrissey plays police interrogator Theunis Swanepoel.
Mrs Mandela is on BBC Four at 9.00pm on 25 January 2010.