“Magenta Coal”: A Hollow of Failed Expectations
It is quite rare to find a series so fixated on where it wants to be that it forgets where it is. But that is what Netflix’s South African series, “Magenta Coal” is.
The show immerses viewers in the complex realm of the Nkosi family, prominent figures overseeing South Africa’s largest coal mine, Magenta Coal. Think of it as 2023’s “Game of Thrones,” only this time the prize being fought over is not a throne of iron but one of coal and the families involved are watered down to a calm three, as opposed to seven.
Every “Game of Thrones” has a Cersi. And that’s where the matriarch, Matilda (Nambitha Mpumlwana) comes in.
As the wife of the current CEO of the company and default chief of the clan, Zebedee (Desmond Dube), Matilda is adept at strategic games and scheming, echoing Cersi’s cunning nature. Her relentless nature only worsens when the chief dies after which she would go to any length to see her three children, Sandile (Senzo Radebe), Khumbulani, and Fezeka (Khanya Mkangisa) inherit their father’s company; even if it means tormenting the other competitors: her in-laws and Zeb’s best friend and confidant, Muzi (Richard Mofe-Damijo) and Mangaliso (Cedric Fourie), Zeb’s firstborn.
Although such a storyline sounds all too familiar, “Magenta Coal” deserves its flowers for not blindly leap-frogging on this narrative by – at the very least – adding a sense of uniqueness to it. The fast pacing ensured things kicked off quickly in the first episode and you instantly get to know what you’re dealing with.
While mostly in English, a minute or two of Zulu conversations may leave non-natives stranded, but at least you somehow get a whiff of what’s cooking via body language.
One glaring aspect that becomes apparent early on is the incessant scheming, which is a predictable yet integral element. Across the six episodes of “Magenta Coal,” the central focus is the intense battle for supremacy within the company. It’s hard to keep tabs on all the plotting, and more often than not, you are compelled to choose. Ultimately, you might find yourself gravitating towards Matilda.
And that’s no coincidence.
Nambitha Mpumlwana’s portrayal of Matilda emerges as the linchpin that keeps you invested. Whenever she graces the screen, we expect nothing less than her distinctive brand of nagging and matriarchal prowess. Ironically, in a bid to protect her children’s interests, she, as described by her own daughter, turned her children into monsters.
Matilda is certainly not a character to root for but her willingness to go to great lengths to secure her bloodline’s future suggests a depth beyond mere material pursuits. What’s more, it’s her intelligence that propels the plot forward, demonstrating the consequences her adversaries face when they meddle with burning coal.
For all her strengths, Matilda’s only “flaw” comes not from her performance or character but from a least expected place: her wig!
It appears the costume and styling department team aimed to convey her as a woman so consumed by hate that she rarely has time for personal grooming; in other words, fixing her wig. That can be the only logical explanation for the monstrosity on her head.
Nonetheless, if Nambitha Mpumlwana maintains her outstanding performance, she stands the chance of earning a reputation as South Africa’s “Mama G.”
While Matilda may lead the scheming department, other characters are not far behind, each nursing their unique grievances. Even the seemingly flawless friend, Muzi, is not without his own questionable actions. His character, in particular, is a perplexing one. At one point, his loyalty is unquestionable. At others, one begins to raise a brow – two even. His swift change in behavior – from disbelief to comfort – with his wife flirting with Sandile remains a mysterious aspect of his persona.
In contrast, Khumbulani, Matilda’s youngest son, appears to be the only character not actively engaged in scheming, at least not for malicious reasons.
Undoubtedly, the series excels in portraying intricate relationships among its complex characters, particularly when their paths intertwine.
Perhaps, the strongest point of this series is how it showcases the relationship between its complex characters, especially when they cross paths. This dynamic interaction is made possible by a stellar cast that performed their roles admirably.
But unfortunately, a good cast can only take you so far when you’re so short-sighted as a series.
Surely, the plot was planned seasons ahead, but it seems scant attention was given to the nuanced details that enhance a show’s rewatch value. This has resulted in a presentation that appears as if it emerged from a budget constraint at Netflix. Coupled with some inconsistencies, this creates a potential time bomb that threatens to detonate alongside viewers’ patience.
Without question, the series’ insistence on focusing on plotting mechanisms hurt it the most. As intriguing a concept as it is, it eventually becomes overwhelming. At some point, one begins to pray for anything not conceived with malicious intent. And when that miracle seems close, it turns out it was a plot all along!
Considered solely from a thematic standpoint, “Magenta Coal” shines in its portrayal of the sinister facets of human nature when confronted with power and wealth. It is an eye-opener that familial bonds are nothing compared to material bonds.
However, the commendable cinematography and overall production quality only serve to mitigate the series’ flaws rather than fully conceal them. As the sixth episode concludes, your engagement remains intact, but it’s undeniably diminished. It’s no longer the national favorite it was 24 hours into its debut.
Release Date: October 27, 2023
Runtime: 38 – 45 minutes
Streaming Service: Netflix
Stars: Demond Dube, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Vusi Kunene, Nambitha Mpumlwana Omuhle Gela Busi Lurayi Ntando Duma, Hamiltion Dhlamini, Cici Hambanaye, Khanya Mkangisa, Senzo Radebe Cedric Fourie, and Connie Chiume