Zulu

  • Directors: Cy Endfield
  • Producers: Stanley Baker, Cy Endfield
  • Writers: John Prebble, Cy Endfield
  • Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama, History, War
  • Actors: Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson, James Booth, Michael Caine

In 1879, a communiqué from British South Africa to the government in London, narrated by Richard 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 daughter (Ulla 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 carriage.

The next morning, at dawn, the Zulus withdraw several hundred yards and begin singing a war chant; the British respond by singing “Men of 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.

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