Good Madam

Black hands scrub white floor tiles and dust the framed photographs, portraits of a white upper-class Capetown family for whom Mavis has served many years. Her own son Stuart growing up alongside Grant and Ross, the emigrated children of the matriarch, Mavis is now sole carer for the bedridden Diane who she sees as a “good madam.”

Mavis believing that her diligent service and live-in status means she is seen as part of the family who reside in a comfortable villa, the large estate safe behind tall white walls, high loops of razor wire and intimidating gates, when her daughter Tsidi arrives with her own child Winnie their impression is different, of an old woman overworked and taken advantage of.

Director Jenna Cato Bass’ previous films having had an element of improvisation, Good Madam (Mlungu Wam) is no different, the story created by Bass and Babalwa Baartman but the script credited with an additional ten names from the ensemble case including leads Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa), Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe), Winnie (Kamvalethu Jonas Raziya), Stuart (Sanda Shandu) and Tsidi’s separated partner Luthando (Khanyiso Kenqa).

A commentary on post-apartheid South African society, Diane’s sons live in Australia while Tsidi’s are overwhelmingly close; following the death of her own grandmother for whom she was sole carer her uncle declared himself head of the family, making decisions for all, prompting Tsidi to defiantly walk out of her own home; should Diane require hospice care Tsidi, Winnie and Mavis will all be homeless, Mavis refusing to call a doctor even when madam collapses.

Seemingly trapped by circumstance, is it Tsidi’s fears of inescapable servitude which are causing her to imagine that her hands are under the control of someone else, or is there an evil spirit hanging over them, controlling them all, Diane as much a prisoner as them, trapped in her frail body behind the high walls which defined segregation and Mavis conditioned to respond to the ringing bell like the ghost dog which prowls the house?

The sprawling ensemble of characters difficult to follow and further complicated by some using different names dependent on their relationships and the improvisation of dialogue which fails to clearly establish more solid than antipathy and distrust, Good Madam is a well-intentioned mess, making the point that the past cannot be scrubbed clean but ensure what to be in the present, finding focus in the final crisis but too late to present itself as other than an honourable failure.

Good Madam is streaming on Shudder now



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