Home Movies by Decade Movies - 1970s Zulu Dawn (1979)

Zulu Dawn (1979)

Fifteen years after the successful release of the classic 1964 film Zulu, a long-planned prequel finally made it to the cinemas.

In 1879 South Africa, British forces are conspiring at Cape Colony to demolish the Zulu natives around them to make way for more industrial space.

The scheme is led by Sir Henry Bartle Frere (John Mills) and Lord Chelmsford (Peter O’Toole), Commander of the British garrison, who deliberately present a ridiculous dissolution plan to one of the Zulu leaders, King Cetshwayo (Simon Sabela).

The pretext works well enough to mount a planned invasion despite reservations from some of the other British soldiers – particularly Lieutenant Vereker (Simon Ward) – while one-armed veteran Colonel Durford (Burt Lancaster) and his escorts are sent to scout and determine the size of the Zulu army.


The end result – the Battle of Isandhlwana on 22 January 1879 – became one of the biggest blunders in military history. Despite orders to the contrary from the British government, the English forces attack Cetshwayo, leading to the massacre of 1,500 British soldiers by 25,000 Zulu warriors.

O’Toole, in particular, gives an excellent, restrained performance and the supporting cast is full of familiar faces like Denholm Elliott, Phil Daniels, Nicholas Clay, and Bob Hoskins.

Zulu Dawn has never been regarded with the same esteem as its predecessor, partially because many audiences only saw it theatrically in a severely shortened 98-minute version to accommodate it more easily on double bills.

Lord Chelmsford
Peter O’Toole
Sir Henry Bartle Frere
John Mills
Lady Frere
Vivienne Drummond
Lieutenant William Vereker
Simon Ward
Colonel Anthony Durnford
Burt Lancaster
King Cetshwayo
Simon Sabela
Colonel Hamilton-Brown
Nigel Davenport
Colonel Pulleine
Denholm Elliott
CSM Williams
Bob Hoskins
Norris Newman
Ronald Lacey
Bishop Colenso
Freddie Jones
Boy Pullen
Phil Daniels
Lieutenant Raw
Nicholas Clay
Lieutenant Coghill
Christopher Cazenove
Colonel Crealock
Michael Jayston
Lieutenant Harford
Ronald Pickup
QSM Bloomfield
Peter Vaughan
Private Williams
Dai Bradley
Major Russell
Donald Pickering
Fanny Colenso
Anna Calder-Marshall
Lieutenant Melvill
James Faulkner
Captain Shepstone
Graham Armitage
Corporal Storey
Paul Copley
Lieutenant Milne
Christopher Chittell
Colonel Harness
Patrick Mynhardt
Major Smith
Brian O’Shaughnessy
Lieutenant Cavaye
Midge Carter
Sergeant Murphy
Raymond Davies
SM Kambula
Sydney Chama
Corporal Fields
Ian Yule
Trooper James
Len Sparrowhawk
Don Leonard
Ken Gampu
Gilbert Tjabane
Abe Temba
Muntu Ben Louis Ndebele
Mr de Witt
Kenneth Baker
Mrs de Witt
Claire Marshall

Douglas Hickox