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18 February 2010

Patriot Games

1995 was the year I got into rugby. I say that as though I'm some great rugby fan now but that isn't the case. However, in 1995, my last year of primary school, I did play a lot of rugby, although since then my involvement with the sport has consisted of one year on the sidelines as a dutiful if not always enthusiastic supporter, circa 1999.

I remember two things from the 1995 Rugby World Cup: the official soundtrack and the tournament organised for various Oxfordshire primary schools, each of which was representing one of the World Cup teams. My school was representing Scotland but we actually won the tournament and for some reason, I was the captain so I got my photo in the local paper alongside the other captains. Ah, fame... The soundtrack stayed with me longer and I still like to listen to it now, especially the French song (Fauré's Pavane with some chic French peeps voicing the phrase, "allez les Bleus," over the top) and the title track, World in Union from Kiri Te Kanawa, even though it's cheesy because I do like a bit of Jupiter.

It turns out my knowledge of all of the important things associated with the 1995 World Cup is practically non-existent, or so I learned while watching Invictus tonight. I guess I was too young and/or too self-involved at the time to notice or understand the significance of the event for South Africa. I know a little more now and I was thankful that there weren't too many extended scenes of actual rugby playing.

The film opens with the South African rugby team in a sorry state. They are playing badly and don't have the support of a large proportion of the population who associate the almost entirely white players with Apartheid and the oppression of the previous regime; captain Wikus Van De Merwe--I mean Francois Pienaar--played by Matt Damon, has his work cut out for him if he is going to lead his team to victory at the upcoming World Cup. In fact, it was lucky they were hosting or they might not have got through to the finals. Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) also has his work cut out for him because South Africa as a whole is in a sorry state. He has to start somewhere though and for the South African people to unify through their shared support of the rugby team, all the way to the finals, seems as good a place as any to start.

Of course, there are obstacles along the way but you know how it's going to end (hint: with Kiri Te Kanawa singing World in Union in the stadium and no one minding because they are all so happy). After Team America, I haven't been able to take Matt Damon seriously but he puts in a strong performance as the captain of Team South Africa. They almost lost me when some incredibly cheesy song called Colorblind ("it's not just a game / you can't throw me away / I put all I had on the line") started playing as the team were gearing up for the competition. On hearing Kiri, however, I was overcome with nostalgia for 1995.

All in all, Clint done good, although the editing could have been a little tighter--I'd have enjoyed the film more had it been about 20 minutes shorter; this may just have been because like with the Arctic conditions I experienced while watching The Road, the cinema decided to pump up the heat tonight. I thought this was so I could really feel what the Springboks were going through, running around in the heat but actually, the World Cup took place during the South African winter, of course...

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