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Doo Yoo see a Zulu?
Member Name: Gary25
Date: 12/11/08, updated on 12/11/08 (287 review reads)
Advantages: Captivating, one of finest films ever made.
Disadvantages: None whatsoever.
It was released in 1964 through Paramount Pictures by Diamond Films - a company set up by the well established actor Stanley Baker, who was looking to move more into the directing field.
The film was directed by Cy Endfield, and co-produced by both Baker and Endfield, each with strong links to the story-line. Endfield was born in South Africa, where the events covered by the film took place, and Baker was born in South Wales, from where a lot of the soldiers involved in the battle were from, being the 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot.
I do not intend running through the story in depth but instead want to concentrate on some of the acting performances and parts of the film that make this a cut above the rest.
The film, which makes it all the more compelling, is not fiction but fact, based on true events that happened at a small mission station at Rorkes Drift, Natal, South Africa on 22/23 January 1879. The rights or wrongs of the British being there should not detract from the film itself which focusses on the 110 British soldiers who stood firm and fought a force of over 4,000 Zulu's. The previous day had seen over 1,500 soldiers killed at an earlier battle at Isandhlwana, which is covered at the start of the film.
Lt. Gonville Bromhead - played by Michael Caine.
Although Caine has been a household name for many many years, this was his first role and he certainly looks young in this!! He is the Officer in charge at Rorkes Drift, and portrays the typical English gentry type of that era. For the first few scenes I feel that he almost tries too hard to mould himself into that stereo-typical image. His undoubted talent shines through as the movie progresses and the inter-action between himself and the other Officer played by Stanley Baker himself is superb.
Lt John Chard - Royal Engineers - played by Stanley Baker.
Baker is magnificient, and displays some of his gritty down-to-earth characterisations prevalent in some of his earlier movies, such as Hard Drivers. The initial dislike between his character and Bromhead is plain to see as they are from different worlds and it is fascinating to see the mutual respect forming between the two as the scenes progress. Chard actually takes command as he has a few months seniority over Bromhead and the sniping between the two has almost a comic aspect. Baker is in control, but when his hands start to tremble as he tries to load his pistol, the look of self-loathing on his face is brilliant.
Cetewayo - the leader of the Zulu's is played by the Zulu Chief himself, Chief Buthelezi, and obviously the collaberation brings a real touch of authenticity to the Zulu's in this film and ensures that it is a real depiction of how the Zulu fighting strategies were carried out.
Otto Witt - Jack Hawkins. He plays a cameo performance as the Swedish missionary but I found his role a little annoying and lack lustre up until his departure from the mission. Steaming drunk, he shounts from the back of his carriage before the main battle, "Can't you see, you're all going to die". It doesn't look much in print but the anguish and contortions on his face as he pleads with the soldiers is truly memorable.
Surgeon Reynolds - Patrick Magee. A minor role really for Magee but plays his part well dealing with the hopeless situation of dying soldiers being brought in for treatment. One poignant part is where he asks the orderly what his patient did for a living as he thrashed about on the operating table. When told he was a paper hanger, he says so matter of factly, but with utter despair in his voice, "Well, he's a dead paper-hanger now."
Adendorff - Gert Van de Burgh. From the Natal Mounted Police and is the local contact. He hates the Zulu's but also you can sense in his exchanges with Bromhead that he hates the British being there as well. He explains the Zulu's strategies and my favourite part with him is where the soldiers are both physically and mentally exhausted when the Zulu's start chanting again. Bromhead shouts, "Come on, what are you waiting for?". Adendorff laughs somewhat hysterically and says "They're not taunting you, they're saluting you, saluting fellow braves".
Private Hook - played by James Booth. A nasty, lazy mallingerer who does not endear himself to the audience one bit. Later you see a totally different side to him.
There are a few well known faces, Glynn Edwards for one, you may remember him as the pub owner in Minder. There are so many wonderful individual performances from each and every actor that I could go on for ever. The quivering top lip of Colour Sergeant Bourne as he reads out the role call, with so many dead, leaves a lump in the throat. They were his boys.
Maybe it's because I'm Welsh, but the thing that really gets me going and has the hairs on my arms stand up, is when the remaining soldiers are being mentally tormented by the Zulu's chanting, and they launch into Men of Harlech to counter it. Truly inspirational.
They are many, many scenes to keep you captivated, such as the soldiers at the final dedoubt, firing in lines, with Caine shouting, covered in grime, "Front rank, fire, reload. " The hand to hand fighting has been very well done when you consider the sheer number of actors and extras involved.
But please don't think this film is all about fighting from beginning to end, it's not. There are various scenes within the film that contribute to the overall effect. The scenery is quite simply breathtaking - it was filmed on location in Natal and also at Twickenham Film Studios in London (I couldn't tell you what parts were filmed in the latter - it's seamless).
The music was composed by John Barry and complements the film perfectly - it is very stirring yet almost military with strong drums and heavy beats. It is heard sporadically throughout the movie, and in my mind I've yet to come across another score that adds so much to the effect of a film.
I've also got to mention the narration. Both the foreward and the role of honour at the end are narrated by none other than Richard Burton. Whenever he narrates, and I'm also thinking of his spectatular narration on Jeff Waynes War of the Worlds, adds so much atmosphere to simple words. A master stroke.
Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for bravery at Rorkes Drift - the most in any one single engagement. It was a massive task indeed to try to re-create the events of those two days but Endfield and Baker have succeeded in a way that I would not have thought possible. Truly a magnificent film that I've watched time and time again, and will continue to do so as it does not dull with repeated viewing.
I have the DVD version which is photographed in Technirama and comes with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Surprisingly, considering the blood and death count, it is only classed as a PG (parental guidance) meaning it is suitable for general viewing, but some senes may be unsuitable for young children. I cannot praise this film highly enough. Running time is 133 minutes, so it's a long film but the time flies by.
Apart from the film, that has the usual subtitles and a whole host of other language options, it has the added bonus of a Theatrical Trailer, a commentary provided by Sheldon Hall, a film historian, and Robert Porter (2nd Unit Director). Finally it has The Making of Zula and Role of Honour containing an interview with Stanley Baker's wife that I found interesting and clips from the film itself.
You can pick up Zulu on DVD for as little as £1.55 on e-bay and I've no doubt it'll be on over Christmas (it is every year). If you've never seen it because you don't like war films, please give it a chance. It's a fascinating look and superbreinactment of what actually took place in Rorkes Drift back in 1879.
I cannot praise this film highly enough.
This was my first (and probably my last!!) film review, hope you enjoyed it. Also posted on Ciao under same name.
Summary: A re-creation of the battle at Rorkes Drift, Natal.