Directed By: Cy Endfield
Starring: Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson
Tag line: "The epic story of courage, honour and pride"
Trivia: Stanley Baker purchased John Chard's Victoria Cross in 1972, but thought it was probably a replica. After Baker's death it was sold to a collector at a low price. It turned out to be the actual medal
Zulu is an account of one of the most brutal battles in British military history, a fight between some 100-odd Welsh foot soldiers and over 4,000 Zulu warriors that took place in Natal, Africa, on January 22, 1879. It is also a thrilling motion picture.
Stanley Baker stars as Lt. John Chard, an engineer who was sent to the tiny outpost of Rorke’s Drift to erect a bridge, yet ended up serving as the regiment’s commanding officer. His second-in-command is Bromhead (a very young Michael Caine), a smug Lieutenant who spends his free time hunting down some of Africa’s more exotic wildlife. Having been warned of the impending attack by Rev. Witt (Jack Hawkins), a missionary who’s on friendly terms with the natives, Chard, Bromhead and the others, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable odds they face, decide to make a stand. The fighting is intense, with both sides taking heavy casualties, and a number of British soldiers distinguish themselves in battle, including Pvt. Henry Hook (James Booth), who, just before the melee, had been lying in a hospital bed. He would become one of eleven in the regiment to be awarded the Victorian Cross for valor.
The battle that rages through much of Zulu is not constant; instead, the Zulus come in waves, throwing as many men as they can against their foe, then retreating once British artillery has drastically reduced their numbers. There are periods of silence between the attacks, giving Lt. Chard and his subordinates time to survey the damage. Then the Zulus advance again… and again… and again, chanting as they bang their spears against their shields, getting closer and closer with each successive assault. As for the remaining British troops, they’ve accepted that they’re probably going to die, and fight back with the determination of men who have nothing left to lose.
Zulu is a tense, often electrifying reenactment of this bloody day in history, yet what I found most interesting was how the filmmakers refused to demonize the Zulu warriors. In fact, the movie, at times, salutes their bravery as well, and in one of the film’s final shots we’re shown the battlefield, littered with hundreds upon hundreds of bodies, revealing that, though the British went through hell, it was the Zulus who paid the ultimate price.