Zulu (DVD)

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Zulu (DVD)

Narrated by Richard Burton and starring an outstanding Michael Caine in his first starring role, ZULU is a tense and dramatic war film about the Battl...

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Review of "Zulu (DVD)"

published 12/10/2017 | 2mennycds
Member since : 28/08/2015
Reviews : 273
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About me :
With accepted product proposals now as rare as the giant panda and the black-footed ferret, I may add some photos to some earlier reviews, hope you don't mind if some recycled reviews appear...
Pro True story, gripping, empathetic, violence moderated, well acted, well filmed
Cons Liberties taken with characters, won't appeal to all tastes
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Characters / Performances
Special Effects

""The army doesn't like more than one defeat in a day""

Title shot

Title shot

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On 22nd January 1879, the British army sustained one of its greatest defeats, one that shocked the whole nation.

Seemingly invincible, and having crushed the powerful African kingdoms of Ethiopia in 1868 and Ashanti in 1874, the British army had invaded Zululand. In a pitched battle rather than by stealth or ambush, the two sides met, at Isandlwana. And there the British lost about half its 1000 or so men.

Later the same day, a British garrison of around 100 men was attacked by about forty times that number of Zulu warriors at the mission station of Rorke’s Drift. The battle raged – and I use the term deliberately – for 10 hours, from late afternoon one day until almost dawn the next. Both sides fought with incredible courage and commitment. Hastily erected walls of “mealie” sacks (effectively “sandbags”) and biscuit boxes were built to form a battlements between buildings, and a walled mealie bag circular “redoubt” constructed in the courtyard in case the outer defences were penetrated. Wooden wagons were turned on their sides to form barricades. Loopholes were made in building walls to enable protected shooting. But still the Zulus came on in great numbers despite heavy losses – and brought fire to help them!

Would this be a second ignominious defeat of the day for the British?

The Battle Of Rorke’s Drift is an infamous military “last stand”. Once the decision had been taken not to withdraw, the garrison was soon surrounded. Surrender was not viable, and the British soldiers found themselves in a prolonged fight for their lives. It’s for this reason that the Battle is so iconic; the reality is that it had little direct impact upon the entire Anglo-Zulu conflict.

A record number of Victoria Crosses for a single day’s action – eleven – were awarded, and the record still stands. Even given the somewhat arbitrary nature of the award of medals, this is a remarkable achievement.

It’s hardly surprising that a movie was brought out about the engagement back in 1964. It’s based on the real events, but as with any movie, a number of liberties have been taken with the facts.


Stanley Baker: Lt. Chard R.E.
Jack Hawkins: Otto Witt
Ulla Jacobsson: Margareta Witt
James Booth: Pte. Hook
Michael Caine: Lt. Bromhead
Nigel Green: Colour-Sgt Bourne
Ivor Emmanuel: Pte. Owen
Paul Daneman: Sgt. Maxfield
Glynn Edwards: Cpl. Allen
Neil McCarthy: Pte. Thomas
David Kernan: Pte. Hitch
Gary Bond: Pte Cole
Peter Gill: Pte. 612 Williams
Patrick Magee: Surgeon Reynolds

Director: Cy Endfield
Produced: Stanlet Baker
Written by: Cy Endfield, John Prebble

Certificate: PG (due to the violence depicted, and some bad language)

Playing time: 138 minutes


# # # This was MICHAEL CAINE’s screen debut. It’s refreshing not to hear his accustomed cockney twang. Instead he uses a privileged class Lieutenant voice, appropriately peppered with terms like “old chap”.

I find his character of Lt Bromhead somewhat cliched. However, there’s no denying that the British army of the time had officers of this background a-plenty, so I think it’s unfair to be critical of this!

I like the foil that he provides to the more down-to-earth character of STANLEY BAKER’s Lt Chard. I also like the tensions that he portrays – his arrogance is checked by his having to defer to the equally-ranked but slightly longer commissioned Lt Chard (Stanley Baker).

I also like the way that his support of Chard is begrudging, and even at times withheld. Again, I like the way that his character isn’t entirely one-sided. When push comes to shove, he leads his men effectively and with commitment.

I find his acting role convincing.

# # # STANLEY BAKER plays his part well as Lt Chard. He holds the same rank as Caine’s Lt Bromhead, and was commissioned in the same year, but several months earlier than Broimhead, so is technically senior, and therefore entitled to take on the command of the troops and of the battle.

I like his down-to-earth character, in contrast to that of Bromhead. While Bromhead flaunts his military pedigree (“…my father fought at Waterloo…”), Baker’s Chard fends off such comments without undue animosity.

I like the way that he is calm and level-headed in his leadership; this is true to life, actually, and was the more remarkable for his being an officer of the Royal Engineers, and with no prior actual battle experience.

# # # NIGEL GREEN plays an effective part as Colour Sergeant Bourne. He conveys his character effectively, in my opinion. He is tough, but not mean, and able to command but also motivate and support his men’s morale even when under attack.

# # # JAMES BOOTH plays his part effectively. Surly and by nature and practice a malingerer, and a reluctant fighter. His character in the movie is radically different – almost opposite – to the character of the real man. I think this is a travesty; it would have been easy to invent a new soldier with a character like that of the movie’s Pte Hook. The real Hook was awarded a Victoria Cross.

# # # JACK HAWKINS plays his part well enough as Swedish missionary Otto Witt, based at Rorke’s Drift. Almost inevitably he is portrayed as bigoted and a krank, prone to religious ranting and misquoting from “the Book”, as well as having a drinking habit.

It does annoy me that the majority of clergy and missionaries in TV and movies are portrayed as hypocrites, often harbouring some sordid (usually sexual) secret, detestable bigots or spineless and effeminate. I know it makes for a useful role to help things along, but frankly it’s rare to find a likeable yet sincere and committed man of the cloth in dramas.


Apart from some scenes filmed in the studio, the movie was filmed at various locations in South Africa. I think a good job has been done here, and the “feel” of the location comes across clearly.


There isn’t much music in the film. The soundtrack itself is apropriate enough, a brass band playing a stately tune; at one point the British (Welsh) soldiers strike up the traditional song “Men Of Harlech” with the appropriate harmonies. Apparently the voices are those of actual soldiers. It seems appropriate enough given that many of the soldiers in the film are movie are portrayed as Welsh.

There is also some Zulu singing at a mass wedding, and some war chants.

The making of the film

Interestingly, although the film features Welsh soldiers as some of the main characters, this is almost certainly a whim on the part of Welsh acting star/producer Stanley Baker’s nationality.

Some Apartheid oppressive incidents occurred during the making of the film, and Michael Caine vowed never to make another film in South Africa under that regime – and kept to his word.

Many of the British soldiers were played by real soldiers. Similarly, most Zulus depicted in the film were played by actual ones.

Concluding comments

I rate this 4 stars. It’s a bit annoying that some of the liberties were taken, especially with the character of Pte. Hook, who in the movie is a pretty unlikeable character.

Having said that, I LIKE…

# # # the scenery. Most of us have seen or will see this on a TV or computer screen. It’s a pity, as there are some very atmospheric scenic shots that I don’t think a small screen can adequately convey

# # # the action sequences. I feel that the desperate, intense hand-to-hand combat is captured very vividly, fairly realistically, yet in a sanitised way sufficient for a mere certificate!

# # # the empathy for the Zulu warriors, portrayed as brave and disciplined soldiers (as indeed they were) rather than as savages. I think this is most clearly done when the Zulu respect for their adversaries is shown

# # # there is also some implied questioning of why the British are fighting there, or what they are even doing there

# # # the tension. I feel that this is built up well before the main action takes place, perhaps especially as the sound of the approaching Zulu’s footbeats on the hard soil is heard

I rate this 4 stars. I've deducted a point for the liberties taken with the character of Pte Hook and for the deranged character of Witt.

As indicated above, this is a film-only review, but the DVD can be bought from Amazon for £5, from a little over £4, new, from their Marketplace suppliers; Blu-ray for £8 (from about £6.70 through their Marketplace suppliers); given the age of the film, I’m not sure how advantageous the Blu-ray would be over and above the DVD edition.

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Comments on this review

  • jojodixon published 16/10/2017
    Good review! Also liked Cain's performance and agree his change in accent was refreshing.
  • jb0077 published 14/10/2017
    An E from me.
  • ravingreviewer published 13/10/2017
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Product Information : Zulu (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Narrated by Richard Burton and starring an outstanding Michael Caine in his first starring role, ZULU is a tense and dramatic war film about the Battle of Rorke's Drift in 1879--which was part of the Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa--where approximately 150 British soldiers held off 4,000 Zulu warriors. ZULU is an exceptionally well-made and beautifully shot film from 1964 that demonstrates the bravery of the British troops and also acknowledges the Zulu's bravery. The emotional score of the film was conducted by John Barry. Eleven Victoria Crosses were won in the action, the most in a single battle. Most of the characters in the movie were based on real participants of the battle.


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