I missed the importance of the '95 Rugby World Cup to South Africa. Partly because I've never been a major sports fan. And partly because late June is peak touring season in Europe and I would have been on the road somewhere working. Yet, for two hours on Christmas Eve – I was totally engrossed in Clint Eastwood's take on John's Carlin's book “Playing the Enemy”.
I'd read all the criticism: Matt Damon has the emotive range of a salamander (oh who cares, have you seen the man?), Morgan Freeman's accent is patchy, the rugby was 'staged' (no shit, really?) So I wasn't expecting much. But I loved every moment. Invictus was the perfect pre-Christmas movie. It is about hope and determination. About possibility. And it made me smile, and cry, and be awed, again, by Madiba's mind.
I met him once, at SA house in London late April 2001. R.E.M. were playing the Freedom Day Concert in Trafalgar Square and I was co-ordinating the media. Madiba sent word to the soundcheck that he wanted to meet everyone involved in the show. We trooped upstairs to a room in the Embassy – and in he came. Moving from person to person: shaking hands and thanking them for their time. When he got to me, I got all choked up and could hardly talk. Michael had to tell him my name. He stood there until I composed myself, then asked:
“How long have you been away?” “16 years, Madiba.”
“16 years? That's long enough – it's time to take what you have learned and go back. We will need you.”
I just nodded and he squeezed my hand: “I'll see you back at home”. And he was gone.
And here I am – back in Cape Town; Madiba's not a bad guy to take career advice from.
I think Matt did a great job as Francois Pienaar – a decent man who understood what his President was trying to achieve. Morgan's accent and mannerisms were spot on. And Clint really got the importance of rugby to this country, and the politics that were involved. So, ignore the hairsplitters, the movie is a must see. Watch it with your heart.
PS: The name of the movie comes from a poem that helped keep Madiba strong while he was in prison. It's worth a read – I've take the liberty of printing it below
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Earnest Henley