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Zulu is a 1964 historical war film depicting the Battle of Rorke's Drift between
the British Army
and the Zulus in January 1879,
during the Anglo-Zulu War. Although the film was
portraying reality, many historical features are inaccurate.
The film was directed by blacklisted American
Cy Endfield and
produced by Stanley
Baker and Endfield, with Joseph E. Levine as executive
producer. The screenplay is by John Prebble and Endfield, based on an
article by Prebble, a historical writer. The music is by John
Barry and the cinematography by Stephen Dade. The film
stars Stanley Baker and Michael Caine, in his first starring
role, with a supporting cast that includes Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson, James Booth, Nigel Green, Paul Daneman, Glynn Edwards and Patrick
Magee. The opening and closing narration is spoken by Richard Burton.
The film was made by Diamond Films, Stanley Baker's newly-formed
and distributed by Paramount Pictures in all countries
except the United States, where it was distributed by Embassy
The film was compared by Baker to a Western movie, with
the traditional roles of the United States
Cavalry and Native Americans
taken by the British and the Zulus respectively. The film
acknowledges the Zulus' bravery. Director Endfield showed a Western
to Zulu extras to demonstrate the concept of film acting and how he
wanted the warriors to conduct themselves.
Most of the characters in the film were based on actual
participants of the battle, but their behaviour is mostly fictional
– something that has provoked disapproval: in an interview on the
DVD, the descendants of Private Hook object to his negative
portrayal in the film (he is depicted as a thief and malingerer,
though his character acts bravely near the end of the movie during
some desperate fighting). Indeed, Hook's elderly daughters walked
out of the film's 1964 London premiere, angry at the way their
father had been depicted.
A prequel, Zulu Dawn, about the
Battle of Isandhlwana which immediately
preceded the Battle of Rorke's Drift, was released in 1979. It was also
written by Cy Endfield, and starred Burt Lancaster and Peter
In 1879, a communiqué from British South Africa to the
government in London, narrated
Burton, details the crushing defeat of a British force at
the hands of the Zulus at the Battle of Isandhlwana. The first scene
shows a grassy landscape with many dead British soldiers, while
victorious Zulus gather their weapons.
A mass Zulu marriage ceremony witnessed by missionary Otto Witt (Jack Hawkins), his
Jacobsson) and Zulu King Cetshwayo (Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi) is
interrupted by a messenger who informs Cetshwayo of the great
victory earlier in the day.
A company of the British Army's 24th Regiment of
Foot, depicted as a Welsh
regiment, is using the missionary station of Rorke's Drift in Natal as a supply depot and hospital
for their invasion force across the border in Zululand. Upon receiving news of Isandhlwana
from the Witts and that a large enemy force is advancing their way,
Lieutenant John Chard (Stanley Baker) of the Royal Engineers
assumes command of the small British detachment, being senior to
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine). Realising that they
cannot outrun the Zulu army, especially with wounded soldiers,
Chard decides to fortify the station and make a stand, using
wagons, sacks of mealie, and crates of ship's biscuit. When Witt becomes drunk and
starts demoralising the men with his dire predictions, causing the
soldiers of the Natal Native Contingent to
desert, Chard orders him and his daughter to leave in their
As the Zulu impis
approach, a contingent of Boer horsemen arrives. They advise Chard
that defending the station is hopeless before they flee, despite
Chard's desperate pleas for them to stay. Zulu sharpshooters open fire on the station from
a neighbouring hill. Over the next few hours, wave after wave of
Zulu attacks are repulsed. The attackers succeed in setting fire to
the hospital, leading to intense fighting between British patients
and Zulu warriors as the former try to escape the flames.
Malingering Private Henry Hook (James Booth) surprises everyone by taking
charge in the successful breakout. Attacks continue into the night,
finally forcing the British to withdraw into a tiny redoubt built from supply
crates and mealie bags.
The next morning, at dawn, the Zulus withdraw several hundred
yards and begin singing a war chant; the British respond by singing
Harlech". In the last assault, just as it seems the Zulus will
finally overwhelm the tired defenders, a reserve of soldiers Chard
had hidden behind a final redoubt emerge, form into three ranks,
and pour volley after volley into the stunned natives. They
withdraw after sustaining heavy casualties. Later, the Zulus sing a
song to honour the bravery of the British defenders and leave. The
film ends with a narration by Richard Burton, listing defenders who
received the Victoria Cross, including Private Hook.
Eleven were awarded for the actual fighting at Rorke's Drift, the
most ever for a regiment in a single battle in British military history.
Baker as Lieutenant John Chard
Caine as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, his first major
- Jack Hawkins
as Reverend Otto Witt, a Swedish missionary based at Rorke's Drift
- James Booth as
Private Henry Hook,
described as "a thief, a coward, and an insubordinate barrack-room
- Nigel Green as
Bourne, who later became famous for being the last survivor of
the battle until his death in 1945
Edwards as Corporal William
Allen, portrayed as a model soldier (despite the real Allen
being recently demoted from Sergeant for drunkenness).
Emmanuel as Private Owen, a Welsh baritone and head of the
company choir. At the end, Owen leads the men in singing "Men of
McCarthy as Private Thomas
- Patrick Magee as Surgeon-Major James
Henry Reynolds, the overworked doctor
- Gert Van den Bergh as Lieutenant Josef Adendorff, an Afrikaner officer serving
with the Natal Native Contingent and a survivor of the battle at
- Dickie Owen as Corporal Schiess, a hospitalised Swiss corporal
in the Natal Native Contingent
Zulu was made at Twickenham Film Studios, Twickenham, Middlesex, England, UK and
on location in South Africa, at Drakensberg
Mountains, KwaZulu-Natal, and the national parks of
KwaZulu-Natal. The Super Technirama 70 cinematographic
process was used.
Michael Caine, who at this time in his career was primarily
playing bit parts, was originally up for the role of Private Henry
Hook, which went to James Booth. According to Caine, he was
extremely nervous during his screen test for the part of Bromhead,
and director Cy
Endfield told him that it was the worst screen test he had ever
seen, but they were casting Caine in the part anyway because the
production was leaving for South Africa shortly and they hadn't
found anyone else for the role.
Caine's performance in Zulu won him praise from
reviewers, and his next film role would be as the star of The Ipcress File in which he was
reunited with Nigel
Zulu received highly positive reviews from critics,
earning a rare 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Robin Clifford of
Reeling Reviews gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, and Pablo Villaca
of Cinema em Cena gave the film three stars. Dennis Schwartz of
Ozus Movie Reviews praised Caine's performance, calling it, "one of
his most splendid hours on film" and graded the film A.
Zulu received no Academy Award nominations, but Ernest
Archer was nominated for a BAFTA Award for "Best
Colour Art Direction" on the film.
In 2004, however,
the magazine Total
Film named Zulu the 37th greatest British movie
of all time, and it was voted eighth in the British television
programme The 100 Greatest War Films. Empire Magazine named Zulu
#351 on their list of the 500 greatest films.
In the US, Zulu officially lapsed into the public domain,
meaning there have been several issues of the film on home
video/LaserDisc/DVD in North America — most notably an LD release
by the Criterion Collection which retains the
original stereophonic soundtrack and taken from a 70mm print.
An official DVD release (with a mono soundtrack as the original
stereo tracks were not available) was later issued by Embassy's
successor-in-interest, StudioCanal (with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer handling video
distribution). StudioCanal (the current owner of the Embassy
theatrical library) had acquired US control of the film in 2000
after its copyright was restored. Sony Pictures Television owns
TV and digital rights to the film in the US.
Outside the USA, the film has always been owned by Paramount
- A soundtrack album by John
Barry featuring one side of film score music and one side of
"Zulu Stamp" music was released on the Ember Records in the UK and United Artists Records outside
- A comic book by Dell Publishing
was released to coincide with the film that features scenes and
stills not in the completed film
- Conte toy
decorated with artwork and stills from the film were produced.
- Though not advertised as a film tie in, in the United States in
the mid 1960's, a child's toy blowgun the size of a ball point called a
"Zulugun" was produced that shot plastic sticking darts that
reportedly were often inhaled and swallowed.
- The Battle of Helm's Deep sequence
Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was
filmed in a manner deliberately reminiscent of Zulu,
according to Jackson's comments in supplemental material included
in the special extended DVD edition of The Two
- The Germanic war chant in the battle scene at the beginning of
film Gladiator is the Zulu war
chant from Zulu. In the video commentary, Scott revealed
that Zulu was one of his favourite movies.
- The Battle of O'Rourke's Ford in S.M. Stirling's
science fiction novel On the Oceans of
Eternity is a recreation of the movie premise, right down
to a malingering Private Hook.
- In the tabletop wargame Warhammer 40,000, made by Games Workshop,
there is a battle very similar to the one featured in
Zulu. The only major difference was that the British
soldiers were replaced with Praetorian Imperial Guard, and
the Zulu forces with Ork
Historical picture of Zulu warriors from about the same time as the
events depicted in Zulu
Although writer Cy Endfield consulted with a Zulu tribal
historian for information from Zulu oral tradition about the
a number of historical inaccuracies in the film have been
- The 24th Regiment of
Foot is described as a Welsh regiment: in fact, although based
in Brecon in south Wales, its
designation was the 24th (The 2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of
Foot. It did not become the South Wales Borderers until 1881.
Of the soldiers present, 49 were English, 32 Welsh, 16 Irish and 22
others of indeterminate nationality.
- The song "Men of Harlech" features prominently as the
regimental song; it did not become so until later. At the time of
the battle, the regimental song was "The Warwickshire Lad". There
was no "battlefield singing contest" between the British and the
- The British infantrymen of the Anglo-Zulu War did not wear sparkling
white pith helmets.
They were stained a tan colour (with tea or coffee) without helmet
Bromhead was partially deaf, a disability not mentioned in the
film. All the characters in the film pronounce Bromhead's name as
it is spelt. In reality it was pronounced 'Brumhead'. He was also
significantly older than portrayed and like many Victorian
gentlemen of the period sported substantial facial hair.He was also
of stocky build and dark-haired,unlike Caine who is taller and
- John Chard,
portrayed by Baker as a cleanshaven man with combed back hair,
actually sported a large handlebar moustache and more traditional
sideparting in his hair.
- The seniority of
Chard over Bromhead (measured by their dates of commission) was
three years, not three months as in the film. Also, there was no
dispute over command. Lieutenant Chard was left in charge, due to
seniority, by Major Henry Spalding well before the battle. Spalding
rode off to get reinforcements, but his motives have been
- Both Chard and Bromhead are portrayed as being intelligent and
able officers. In reality, Chard was widely regarded as inefficient
and had a reputation for laziness.
Bromhead was a popular officer within the 24th, acquiring the
nickname "Gunny." However, he never seems to have been trusted with
any meaningful responsibilities (possibly because of his deafness).
It was for this reason that his company was selected to guard
Rorke's Drift, a position it was never imagined would be
- The building of defensive ramparts and initial defence of
Rorke's Drift was organised by Acting Assistant Commissary James
Langley Dalton. His distinction was rewarded with the Victoria
Cross, presented a year after the battle. The film gives most of
the credit to Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead. The real Dalton had
retired in 1871 as a Quartermaster Sergeant after 22 years of
service in the 85th Regiment of Foot of the British Army before volunteering for the
Commissariat and Transport Department. The
film, however, portrays Dalton as something of an effete character,
who does little that might be called heroic. This makes his award
seem something of a mystery. In reality, much of the credit for the
defence of the mission station must in fact go to Dunne and Dalton
of the commissariat department.
- During the period when the mission station is fortified, the
wagons used in the barricades are seen to be tipped over onto their
sides. In reality, they remained upright, and the gaps between were
plugged with biscuit boxes and mealie bags (Chard had placed them
this way so that the Zulus would have to climb over the wagons to
engage the British soldiers standing behind them, thus giving the
defenders more time to shoot).
There are several errors concerning the Swedish missionaries,
the Witts. In the film, Witt is depicted as a middle aged widower,
a pacifist and drunkard, who has an adult daughter called
Margareta. In reality, Otto Witt was aged 30, and had a wife, Elin,
and two infant children. Witt's family were at Oscarberg 30 km away at the time of the
battle. On the morning of the battle, Otto Witt, with the chaplain,
George Smith and Surgeon-Major James Henry Reynolds had ascended
Shiyane, the large hill near the station, and noticed the approach
of the Zulu force across the Buffalo River. Far from being a
pacifist, Witt had cooperated closely with the army and negotiated
a lease to put Rorke's Drift at Lord Chelmsford's disposal. Witt
made it clear that he did not oppose British intervention against
Cetshwayo. He had stayed at Rorke's Drift because he wished "to
take part in the defence of my own house and at the same time in
the defence of an important place for the whole colony, yet my
thoughts went to my wife and to my children, who were at a short
distance from there, and did not know anything of what was going
on". He therefore left on horseback to join his family shortly
before the battle.
- The officers are shown using Webley Mk VI .455
revolvers which were not introduced until 1915 (36 years after the
events depicted in the film) instead of the Beaumont-Adams revolvers that Bromhead and
Chard actually used. However, the British officer of the time was
allowed to use any sort of sidearm he wished, as long as it fired
.455 ammunition. Officers often privately purchased Webley
top-break revolvers (in 1879 not yet officially adopted for
service) somewhat similar in appearance to the Mk VI Webley. These
Webley models had been put
on the market during the 1870s - such as the Webley-Green army
model 1879 or the Webley-Pryse model. So, whilst the Webley model
Mk VI was not yet developed when the film was set, the design is
typical of Webley revolvers of the period and can be seen as an
example of artistic licence.
- Several men can be seen using Lee-Enfield Mk. I bolt-action rifles
instead of the historically correct Martini-Henry.[8
] Apparently, they ran out of .450/577 blanks
during filming - close observation shows that, in many cases, the
actors are simply dry-shooting the empty Martini-Henrys and
simulating the recoil, with the gunshot sound effect dubbed in
- None of the rifles used by
were taken from dead British soldiers after the Battle of
Isandlwana, as NNC Lieutenant Adendorff in the film suggests.
The Zulus attacking Rorke's Drift were largely older and married
regiments. Their assignment at Isandlwana had been to cut off
retreat and they had not been on the battlefield itself. Most of
their firearms were obsolete Brown Bess muskets, purchased decades earlier from traders,
including James Rorke.
- Colour-Sergeant Bourne is depicted as wielding a standard
triangular spike-bayonet. However, noncommissioned officers at this
period were issued the P1860/75 sword-bayonet. This may be artistic
licence however, suggesting he picked up a spare rifle with
ordinary bayonet rather than his own- especially considering
sword-bayonets were notoriously cumbersome and unwieldy
of the regiment
- Many of the men had full beards at the time of the battle. The
film depicts them as largely clean shaven, with some sporting
carefully-tended moustaches or sideburns.
- Surgeon Reynolds is played by Patrick Magee as a middle-aged
Irishman. In actuality Reynolds was thirty-five at the time of the
battle. During the Battle of Rorke's Drift, Reynolds went round the
barricades, distributing ammunition and tending to wounded there,
something that is not shown in the film.
During the closing voiceover, he is also incorrectly referred to as
"Surgeon-Major, Army Hospital Corps"; Reynolds was of the Army
Medical Department, and was not promoted to the rank of
Surgeon-Major until after the action at Rorke's Drift. The
pacifism apparent in Magee's portrayal is also somewhat
anachronistic and not based on the historical Surgeon
- Private Henry Hook VC is depicted as a rogue
with a penchant for alcohol; in fact he was a model soldier who
later became a sergeant; he was also a teetotaller. While the
film has him in the hospital "malingering, under arrest", he had
actually been assigned there specifically to guard the
The filmmakers felt that the story needed an anti-hero who redeems
himself in the course of events, but the film's presentation of
Hook caused his daughters to walk out of the film premiere in
- Conversely, Corporal William Allen is depicted as a
model soldier; in fact, he had recently been demoted from sergeant
- Colour Sergeant Bourne (1854-1945) is depicted as a big,
hardened, middle-aged veteran; in fact, he was of smaller stature
and, aged 23, the youngest colour sergeant in the British Army. He
was called 'The Kid' by his men.
Sergeant Bourne would not have worn medals on his duty uniform.
Moreover, Green's costume has the chevrons on the wrong arm.
- The role of Padre George
Smith ["Ammunition" Smith] is completely ignored.
- The real Sergeant Maxfield, as in the film, was delirious with
fever. However, he was too weak to leave his bed and was stabbed to
death by Zulus while the other sick and injured were being
evacuated from the room.
- Private Cole was assigned to defend the hospital, not the
perimeter. He was killed when he ran out of the hospital alone,
possibly due to claustrophobia. Since he was killed by a
bullet to the head, his last words in the film are unlikely to be
- Corporal Christian Ferdinand Schiess
was significantly younger than the actor who portrayed him. At the
time of his death in 1884 – five years after the battle – he was 28
Hitch was shot through the shoulder, not the leg, as Allen is
in the film.
- Sergeant Windridge, played by the film's stunt co-ordinator Joe
Powell, described as The Sergeant with the Muscles, would
not be able to carry two mealie bags on his shoulders, as seen in
the fortifying of the post. The mealies were described as big,
heavy things, weighing about 200 pounds each. For the film,
the mealie-bags were filled with wood-shavings.
- The attack on the mission station was not ordered by King
Cetshwayo, as the audience is led to believe in the film. Cetshwayo
had specifically told his warriors not to invade Natal, the British
Colony. The attack was led by Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande, the
King's half-brother, who pursued fleeing survivors at Isandlwana
across the river and then moved on to attack Rorke's Drift.
- Captain Stephenson, and his detachment of white cavalry, claim
to have come from "Durnford's Horse" when they ride up to the
mission station. In reality, they were members of the Natal Native
Horse, mainly composed of black riders, who had survived the Battle
of Isandlwana and had ridden to Rorke's Drift to warn and aid the
garrison there. The story of the black Natal Native Contingent troops'
desertion is true. However, as Witt had already left, he was not
responsible for their departure. They left of their own will, with
Stephenson and his European NCOs.
These deserters were shot at and one of the NCOs, Corporal
Anderson, was killed. Stephenson was later convicted of desertion at court-martial and
dismissed from the army. The uniforms of the Natal Native Contingent are
inaccurate; NNC troops were not issued with European-style
- The column of British irregular cavalry seen briefly in the film was actually
at Rorke's Drift. However, Chard ordered them to leave after
finding that they had little ammunition of their own.
- The ending of the film is somewhat fictitious. There was no
Zulu attack at dawn on 23 January 1879, which in the film led to
the singing of "Men of Harlech". There was only sparse fighting
with a few remaining Zulus. The Zulus did not sing a song saluting
fellow warriors, and they did not depart peacefully. They departed
at the approach of a British relief column.[8
- The film omits the killing of wounded Zulus by British soldiers
after the battle. There has been speculation that many may have
been bayonetted, clubbed or shot in the battle's aftermath. (This
was common practice if a small force prevailed over a much larger
one, as it would have been unable to guard all the prisoners.)
- Hall, Dr Sheldon Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It: The Making
of the Epic Movie 2005 Tomahawk Press