Narrated by Morgan Freeman, 1995 – what a wondrous year! South Africa had held its first democratic elections and, no longer a political and sporting pariah, it was to host the Rugby World Cup. Hope and excitement were tangible. Hard as it is to imagine, however, the off-field events were even more momentous. The 16th Man reveals the extraordinary political acumen of Nelson Mandela, for it is he who saw and used the opportunity of an international sporting tournament to heal and reconcile a nation that had been, and perhaps still was, on the brink of civil war. It tantalisingly recreates the tension and drama on and off the pitch. It intertwines footage of the games, happenings in the country and key interviews with those at the heart of events, to tell the amazing true story of how the contest, and the thrilling Springbok victory, changed everyone involved and the country with it. The 16th Man is based on John Carlin’s Invictus, which is also the inspiration for the Clint Eastwood film.
Some sportswriters jokingly refer to their section of the news as the toy department. There’s nothing trivial about ‘THE 16th MAN’, though, or the symbolic value a rugby tournament had for a bitterly divided nation. With its amazing story and heartfelt reminiscences, ‘THE 16th MAN’ does as much to illustrate the potential, passion and power of sports as anything ever made for theatrical release
The critical vision of the film belongs to Clifford Bestall, the director. He tells a conventional sports story about the South African team overachieving, as well as a political story about Mandela’s deft use of the Springboks, a symbol of white power.