‘Invictus’ a victory for South Africa

When leaving the cinema after seeing ‘Invictus’, I could not come to a conclusion about my feelings about the movie.   While it has a star cast of international actors (Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon) and a star director in Clint Eastwood, and is set in Cape Town and Johannesburg, which bodes well for the country’s awareness and visibility, there was a nagging question as to which movie-goers around the world would be interested in a movie about South Africa’s transformation into a democracy almost 20 years ago, and more particularly, the country winning the Rugby World Cup in 1995 against all odds.   

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and one of their adopted sons were at the premiere of the movie in Los Angeles a week ago, and one wonders what would have made them see the movie, other than respect for their fellow-actors and the producer.

The filming is mainly concentrated on the rugby field and in Madiba’s official residences and offices.  Cape Town features in the scenic shots, one being a magnificent shot of a SAA aeroplane flying in front of Table Mountain; various shots of the V&A Waterfront, including a trip to Robben Island on the ferry, and a number of rugby match celebrations at Ferrymans; and a run on Beach Road in Mouille Point, the lighthouse forming a dominant backdrop.

While most would say that Morgan Freeman was the star of the movie, playing the role of the magnificent Nelson Mandela, who sees the Rugby World Cup as a way in which to unite 42 million South Africans, it is Matt Damon who is the real star.   Matt Damon IS Francois Pienaar, and speaks with a most believable South African accent; Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman in voice, and is Nelson Mandela in looks only.

Nostalgically, the movie was interesting to see, in observing how much and yet how little has changed in South Africa in 20 years.    Long-forgotten brand names, such as Volkskas, Xerox and Iscor, and old logos such as those of SAA and Coca Cola, were visible around the rugby fields.

One error was that Madiba was seen to be reading the Cape Argus for breakfast!   Some characters had too pronounced an (unrealistic) South African accent, including Pienaar’s mother, and the white security men.   Pienaar’s wife Nerine, played by local actress Marguerite Wheatley, was very real in acting and speaking.  Both Freeman and Damon have been nominated for the Screen Actors’ Guild awards, as best actor and best supporting actor, respectively.

The name of the movie comes from the Invictus poem by William Ernest Henley, which Mandela had in his prison cell on Robben Island, and was the mantra by which he survived:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishment the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

Given the 2010 World Cup, and a similar scenario of only a particular section of the South African population enjoying soccer,  ‘Invictus’ may hold clues as to how President Zuma and FIFA will get all South Africans behind the spirit of the world’s biggest soccer event.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com

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