The movie Invictus directed by Clint Eastwood and featuring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, held its gala premiere in three South African cities last night. The film’s title is that of the poem by William Ernst Henley.
Freeman takes on the role of Mandela from the day he was released from prison, through South Africa’s key negotiations that led to the end of Apartheid and avoided a civil war, to the day Mandela donned a Springbok rugby jersey and inspired the South African team to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The actor told Independent Media he thought Mandela understood the essence of rugby:
I think he nailed it. He said that soccer is a gentlemen's game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligans' game played by gentlemen.
Rugby has been seen as a key game for white South Africans, notably Afrikaners, who held most positions of power under the ”Apartheid” (”Separetness”) government. The fact that Mandela was prepared to put on one of the team’s jerseys was seen as a significant act of reconciliation at the time.
Freeman said it was a ”daunting thought” to play a world-famous icon who was also still alive. Referring to Nelson Mandela by his popular clan name, ”Madiba,” the actor said:
I am still concerned about Madiba seeing this. All of us said: 'You did such a wonderful job, you've got so much of the man, you look just like him,' yada yada yada... But, he could say 'oh my God'.
Freeman, like other American actors playing Africans, came in for his share of criticism. The weekly Mail and Guardian] warned:
If you are South African you can’t help notice that Morgan Freeman’s Nelson Mandela accent is not so stellar. He slips into an American accent far too many times. People laughed a bit when he was sworn in as president of the republic and struggles to say, “Rolihlahla.”
”Rolihlahla” is Mandela’s real first name. A schoolteacher renamed him ”Nelson” and this second name stuck, and is how he is best known. Rolihlahla means, ”to pull a branch of a tree,” or simply, ”troublemaker.”
Movie reviewer Khaya Dlanga had more praise than criticism, however:
Freeman’s portrayal of the man Nelson Mandela is beyond amazing. His gestures, the unmistakable walk, the occasional clearing of the throat as he speaks, the mouth curling down are so Madiba you forget you’re watching Freeman. The fact that he does look like him helps a lot too. Soon, you forget that he gets the accent wrong and you get caught up in the magic that is Madiba. Suddenly, Morgan Freeman is Mandela.
Reviewers here put it quite simply. Despite some misgivings here and there, they all say: ”Go see the film.”
Invictus, which means "unconquered" in Latin, and is the title of Henley's poem opens in the US and South Africa today.