Invictus, a film by Clint Eastwood (2009)

cover film InvictusA recent addition to the library’s film collection, which now consists of more than 1200 films on DVD, is Invictus. This is a biographical drama based on events before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which South Africa hosted just after the end of apartheid. The once imprisoned but newly elected President, Nelson Mandela (played by Morgan Freeman), hits on the idea of using the South African national rugby team as a way of easing racial tension and uniting the country. He convinces a meeting of the now black-dominated South African Sports Committee not to change the name of the Springboks, the national rugby team. He then arranges a meeting with its captain, François Pienaar (played by Matt Damon), who soon realizes that victory in the World Cup would transcend rugby and could lead to something monumental for his country. Although the Springboks were not expected to go very far in the competition, they surpassed all expectations.

Invictus, which is Latin for ‘unconquered’, is also the title of a short poem by the British poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), which inspired Mandela during his time in prison, as he tells Pienaar in the film.

The film is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Changed a Nation that was written by John Carlin, a journalist and author who covered sports and politics and who is a former South Africa bureau chief for the London Independent (1989-1995). He draws on extensive interviews with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and dozens of other South Africans who were caught up in Mandela’s momentous campaign and the Springboks’ success.

The film was released at a significant time, during the build-up to the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa, which also raised questions about the relationship between (mega) sports events and politics, especially in a country like South Africa. The film opened in the Netherlands in January 2010 to generally positive reviews.

Invictus trailer:

For more titles on Sport in Africa, see our webdossier on Football in Africa and Sport in Africa.

Katrien Polman, October 2010