Invictus (2009) Poster


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  • Invictus is based on Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation (2008) by John Carlin. The book was adapted for the movie by American screenwriter Anthony Peckham. Carlin's book was republished in 2009 under the title Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation.

  • Nelson Mandela (portrayed by Morgan Freeman) is a former president [1994-1999] of South Africa. He is particularly known for his stance against apartheid, for which he served 27 years in prison. He was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

  • Apartheid (meaning "separateness" in Afrikaans) was a South African means of allotting political rights, public services and the right to live in particular areas based on racial segregation. In all cases, white people were treated deliberately and significantly better than people of other races. While legalised racial segregation in South Africa dates back to the early 20th century and before, full-blown apartheid laws were passed from 1948 onwards to totally separate people by "race". They required everyone to be classified as either white, black, Asian (ethnically Indian, Chinese or south Asian) or coloured (mixed race). Black Africans were arbitrarily assigned to "homelands" which, while supposedly independent, were actually controlled by the white South African government which kept them in a state of impoverishment and used them as a source of cheap labour. Black Africans were granted political rights only in these "homelands," were required to carry a passbook whenever they moved in white areas, and had no rights in South Africa outside of the "homelands." Apartheid was abolished in 1991 and the first non-racial election was held in 1994; the South African constitution now explicitly prohibits discrimination on racial or any other grounds. More information about apartheid can be read here and here.

  • Rugby union, the sport featured in the film, is a game between two teams of 15 players. The object is to score points either by touching the ball down in the goal area at the end of the pitch (a try, five points plus a possible conversion) or kicking the ball between the posts and over the crossbar (a penalty goal or drop goal, three points, or a conversion following a try, two points). Teams may only advance the ball by running with it or kicking it. Passing forward from the hands is not allowed, unlike American football. And also unlike American football, blocking a player who does not have the ball is not allowed, and there is no system of "downs" to guarantee possession to one team or the other (although something vaguely similar does exist in the 13-a-side sport of rugby league). Instead, a player who is tackled must release the ball so both sides can contest possession of it—although if neither side can win the ball the referee will call for a scrum. Rugby union is widely played around the world, most extensively in the UK, Ireland, France, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Italy and of course South Africa. In SA, it was predominantly played by whites during the apartheid era. Although that is now changing and many of South Africa's current top players are non-white, it explains the hostility to rugby which many of the black characters express in the film.

  • The coach, Kitch Christie, had been battling leukaemia since 1979 and would die from it in 1998. During the World Cup, he was ill but still coaching the team. In a film, introducing a storyline like this would detract from the central message and so the role of the coach was downplayed. The role of a coach in rugby union is also different compared to American football. In rugby, the players have to make their own decisions on the field during the game, with the coach mainly limited to a halftime pep talk and strategy update. The captain (here Matt Damon) is the one who takes charge on the field, making decisions about penalties and strategy.

  • They won their first pool match against Australia 27-18, and followed this with easy wins over Romania (21-8) and Canada (20-0). In the quarter-final, South Africa beat Western Samoa 42-14 (Chester Williams scoring four tries) and beat France 19-15 in the semi-final. The final was played on 24 June at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. After 80 minutes of play, the score was South Africa 9-9 New Zealand; the Springboks won 15-12 after extra time.

  • Yes, it was. The film captures this accurately. In 1995, the dominant teams in international rugby were New Zealand and the winners of the 1991 world cup, Australia. England and France were rated as the next best. South Africa, by contrast, had only been playing international games for a few years, having been banned during the later years of apartheid. Most commentators saw them as a hard-working and physically strong team, but without the technical brilliance or speed of their main rivals. During the tournament New Zealand emerged as overwhelming favourites, partly but not only due to the impact of winger Jonah Lomu. South Africa's victory in the final really was a major upset, although many of their players went on to have long and illustrious careers.


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