A film Directed by Clint Eastwood
This film is based on a book that looks at the story of Nelson Mandela from a unique angle. Instead of a traditional biopic this film focuses on how Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the 1994 election to President of South Africa with the fall of Apartheid affects the South African national Rugby Union Squad.
I recently bought this on blu-ray, pretty cheaply. It is currently available new on DVD in Morrisons for £5.00. I was going to review this a while ago but with the hospitalisation of Mr Mandela it seemed bad timing, it could have seemed I was trying to cash in on his illness in someway by people googling him and somehow ending up on my Blog.
The Springboks had been out of any meaningful international competition since the 1997 signing of the Gleneagles Agreement by nations of the British Commonwealth. It was against the inherent principles of equality among Commonwealth nations to accept a political separation of races as was the case in South Africa under Apartheid. At that time the Commonwealth was the centre of the Rugby Union world, many will argue that it still is. There had been some tours by International teams in that time, The British Lions (1980), Springbok tour of New Zealand (1981), England (1984), New Zealand Cavaliers (rebel tour of 1986) and a World XV (1989). There we also tours by the South American Jaguars, unaffected by the Gleneagles Agreement as they were drawn from non-Commonwealth countries, mainly Argentina.
With the breaking of Apartheid the ban on competition imposed by the Commonwealth was lifted. During the ban the first two Rugby Union World Cup competitions had taken place without South Africa. Now they were not only entitled to play in the 1995 competition, they were to host the World Cup finals. The Springboks however were no longer the competitive giants they had formerly been.
I watched this knowing the outcome. I knew what happened to Mr Mandela in those days. I knew about the Gleneagles Agreement. I also knew how the finals played out.
Extremely powerful performance from Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, Mr Mandela had previously told Morgan Freeman that he would be very pleased if he one day portrayed him in a movie. Freeman had already met Mr Mandela many times before filming and had visited his residence several times. He met again with Mr Mandela to ensure he had the accent and mannerisms as close as possible.
Similarly Matt Damon met with Francois Pienaar, captain of the Springboks, to learn more about him. He also learned quite a lot of detail about the sport itself. One of the first things that struck me about the casting of Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar was the size difference, Matt Damon is 5’11” (1.80m) and Francois Peinaar is 6’3” (1.91m). I forgot that watching Matt Damon’s performance.
There is racial tension throughout much of the film, and understandably given the history. Tony Kgoroge plays Jason Tshabalala, the head of Mr Mandela’s bodyguard. He has to contend with working alongside secret service agents trhat had been part of the Apartheid establishment as well as deal with potential backlash from Black and White South Africans.
Rugby was an elite White sport, there was only one Black player at the time, Chester Williams. Blacks in South Africa played football and when the Springboks played they invariably favoured whoever was playing against the national squad.
This is dramatised history so there will be parts that didn’t quite happen the same way. However as an outsider to South Africa it all rang true to me, it certainly fit with my recollection of the times and events.
Clint Eastwood cast his son, Scott Eastwood, as the famous fly-half Joel Stransky. This meant Scott had to learn to kick the ball in a convincing way, having never played Rugby Union. The action of the film looks good, Chester Williams was on hand as Rugby Union adviser. Matt and Scott both threw themselves into the roles and the extras were drawn from local clubs.
A very enjoyable film and I hope you give it a chance if you haven’t seen it.