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Mandela is a great man, Invictus a great film

Posted on 16 January 2010 | 8:01am

A friend of ours is a member of Bafta and so gets all the films up for awards.

We have been lucky enough to see about a dozen in recent weeks, from Up In The Air (I liked it, Fiona loved it) to Funny People (Adam Sandler is a very funny person), Brothers (strong) to My Lovely Bones (scary).

Last night we had my winner though, for what awards I don’t know, but for as many as possible.

I speak of Invictus, the story of Nelson Mandela’s harnessing of rugby to his attempts to reconcile the nation he led after decades of hatreds and division caused by the evil of apartheid.

It focuses in large part on his relationship with Springbok captain Francois Piennar. Morgan Freeman is brilliant as Mandela, Matt Damon brilliant as Piennar.

It cannot be easy playing a living legend, especially one as universally known and loved as Mandela.

Director Clint Eastwood and his team certainly did their homework. There is a scene where Mandela is writing a note. It brought back one of the most vivid memories of the several occasions on which I was privileged enough to be in his presence. I asked him to sign a book for Monica Prentice, a Number 10 messenger, one of the few black people in Downing Street, a lovely woman who adored Mandela. I normally resisted the naffery of asking the Mandelas and Clintons of this world for autographs and memorabilia but I was determined to do it for Monica.

As the official NM-TB meeting in Cape Town broke up, I produced ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ and rather sheepishly asked the great man to sign it. He was already on his feet, but slowly sat down again, took out a pen, opened the book, and very slowly, in handwriting that came back to me last night, began to write ‘To Monica.’ This was around the time of Bill Clinton’s impeachment problems and he stopped on the n of Monica, looked up at me and said ‘not THE Monica I trust.’

He has a wicked sense of humour, which comes through in the film. But so does his insight that sport can be both a healer and an inspirer of men and nations. Rugby was the white man’s sport, and he meets resistance to his attempts to get the majority black population to get behind the Springboks. Likewise Piennar, whose leadership skills are spotted and exploited by Mandela, faces resistance from white players who continue to see democracy as a step too far.

But they both break down the resistance by leading through example. Piennar visits Mandela’s cell on Robben Island and though Damon utters not a word, you can sense him feeling like he is walking in Mandela’s shoes.

The final scenes, in which a nation comes together in celebration of a World Cup victory whose planning obsessed the President, are on a par with the climax of Chariots of Fire, my favourite sports movie ever.

We see white and black bodyguards embracing for the first time, and I love the scene where white cops on duty outside the stadium lift a young township kid high in the air, just as Piennar is raising the trophy. Not a dry eye time.

Fiona thought there was too much rugby in the later stages of the film and not enough Mandela-Piennar relationship. But the rugby scenes are beautifully shot, realistic – Damon has clearly learned about the game – and captures the intensity of elite sport, and its impact upon players and supporters, really well. So even if you’re one of those poor unfortunates who hate sport, this is a wonderful wonderful film, with great acting and lovely music, and I defy anyone not to enjoy and be moved by it.

Ps, Matt Damon gets a mention in Maya, my new novel out shortly about an A-list movie star and how fame changes her life and the lives of those around here. Did I mention I had a novel out soon? You can order on Amazon. These plugs will get more shameless as publication date nears. Piers Morgan says on the front cover that it is a superb read, and who can argue with Simon Cowell’s Number 2? Or is it 3?

  • Harry Gee

    You jammy sod. How do you get to see all these films when we have to wait? Not what you know eh? Oh ok, you know a lot too, but I feel jealous

  • Paul McManus

    Saw you at a dinner in Surrey a few months ago. You told a story about Robert MAxwell telling Mandela how to conduct a negotiation, and saying in a negotiation you have to be patient. After 27 years!! Looking forward to the film now. Sounds good

  • Joanna Lees

    I was talking with friends about Mandela on Thursday and just trying to imagine what it is going to be like when he dies. He truly is one of the giants of the history of the last century. I am glad the film does him justice. There will be so many more in future. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it

  • Colin Jolley

    Beat United again? Dream on. Or has your mate Fergie said he will play the kids? Actually even they would beat your lot. Enjoy the journey because it is downhill all the way fter that

  • Findlay

    Sounds like an incredible movie. One I definately have to see!

    I recently saw The Last King of Scotland and when I relayed to a friend of mine how great I thought that movie was, he told me that given he could remember well the Amin perod in Uganda and that he was keen to see the movie too.

    Well, I remember well the occurences around which Invictus is based and while sport isn’t the be all and end all in life, at that time, given what events had preceeded for both South Africa and Nelson Mandella, I couldn’t think of anything more perfect than what took place. A great story for a movie!

  • Simon

    It do hope you watched the DVD’s at your friends house, all “Screeners” have big warning messages saying “Dear Industry Colleague” do not lend this film to anybody. I have also seen an “Invictus” screener and it’s a great and powerful film and Morgan Freeman is superb. Can I suggest that you borrow “A Prophet”, “Crazy Heart” (Jeff Bridges is brilliant), “Let The Right One in” and “Nowhere Boy”

  • Trevor Malcolm Portsmouth Hampshire



    For those of us with memories like sieves with the wires cut out, it’s time to pre-order our 416-pages of

    That story of movie star, Miss Maya Lowe, remember? So, here’s announcing

    MAYA, the novel, for book-lovers everywhere

    Yes, off for a spot of shopping, laydeez and gentlemen. And down from the Hutchinson publisher price of £18.99 to a mere £16.14, provided you take a trip up the where you’ll enjoy FREE super saver delivery, too

    Which means they kindly pay the post and packing for you: it’ll work out abit cheaper, that way. But are you prepared to wait those few days longer for delivery? Decide now, please. Then, pre-order your copy, either way, thanks

    Now, that didn’t sound TOO “in yer face” – at least, not to my ear, it didn’t

    TM ———–