I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to see Invictus. Was it a sports film or a political drama? Well it’s both and the two genre’s work surprisingly well side by side.
Actor turned director, Clint Eastwood, once again proves himself as a competent storyteller with his film about Nelson Mandela’s struggle for a united post-apartheid state having just been elected South Africa’s President.
Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman, uses the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a tool to promote racial harmony across South Africa with the aid of the national rugby team, the Springboks. A bulked up Matt Damon plays the team captain, Francois Pienaar, whose conservative outlook is cracked by Mandela’s optimism.
Mandela invites Pienaar to tea, joins the rugby team in training and famously strides on to the pitch at the South Africa v New Zealand final wearing the same Springboks shirt that a year earlier was a divisive symbol of the old nation.
He writes out a copy of ‘Invictus’ (the poem by WE Henley that helped to sustain Mandela during his 27 years in prison) to Pienaar in his bid to boost the team’s morale. Its lines declare: “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” Words that surely bring hope to even the most cynical and leaves Pienaar astonished at the idea that they can dare to dream about winning the World Cup.
Matt Damon employs, at least to an outsider’s ear, an impressive accent, and manages to blend in beautifully with his fellow players.
Critics have called it “naïve” in its belief that sport can unite or heal a nation, but I see it as a moving tribute to a genuinely great humanitarian. It’s not often that a film can move and inspire so much even after leaving the cinema. A must-see.