The true story of the defence of a mission station and hospital called Rorke’s Drift, where 139 soldiers of the South Wales Border regiment held off 4,000 Zulu warriors during the Zulu War of 1879 – this is the stuff epics are made of.
On 22 January 1879, the British Army suffered one of its worst defeats when Zulu forces massacred 1500 of its troops. After the battle, a Zulu force of over 4,000 advanced on Rorke’s Drift. Zulu focusses on the ensuing 12-hour battle.
The battle scenes – which take up nearly half the movie – are superb and Michael Caine – in his first major screen role – is endearing (if not over-convincing) as upper-class twit Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead. Stanley Baker, the Welsh Sean Connery, is an impressive study in big-sideburned machismo as Chard, in charge of the defence.
There are some great touches from the Welsh stereotypes on show too: “They’ve got a good bass section but no decent tenors”, observes the troops’ choir leader of the massed scores of Zulus chanting war songs from the top of the ridge, before leading his comrades in a rendition of Men of Harlech.
Zulu was shot on location in the Royal Natal National Park, South Africa, and is narrated by Richard Burton (he performed the narration as a favour to Stanley Baker who co-produced the film).
Only 500 Zulus were available to work on the film, with 4,000 required for the battle scenes, so artificial figures were created.
Watch carefully as they gather on the hilltops and look out for the legless, pre-digital Zulu “extras”.
Lieutenant John Chard R.E.
Private Henry Hook
Surgeon James Reynolds
Corporal William Allen
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead
Private 612 Williams
Private 593 William Jones
Private 716 William Jones
Corporal Friedrich Schiess, NNC
Lieutenant Adendorff, NNC
Gert Van Den Bergh
Acting Assistant Commissary Dalton
Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi