Franklin Reviews: Zulu

Produced in 1964, the film Zulu was directed by Cy Endfield and produced by Stanley Baker and Endfield on a budget of 1.7 million dollars. It was produced in the United Kingdom but filmed mostly in South Africa, having a runtime of 134 minutes, and grossing 8 million dollars. The genre of the film is historical, centering around the historical Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu War. Occurring in 1879, this war saw the British succeed in expanding their empire by invading the Zulu Kingdom. The movie begins after the British suffered the worst defeat ever sustained by an indigenous force at the Battle of Isandlwana, losing over 1,200 men.

Zulu is a history nerd's dream. This is to say that it is one of the few films based on historical events that are largely correct and what’s more, it tries to be correct. The location where the film was shot (the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa) is only about a hundred miles from the site of the battle. The layout of the defenses is true to history. The weapons and tactics of both sides are for the most part correct as well.

There are a few historical mistakes within the film itself. The biggest being that the Battle of Rorke’s Drift was never supposed to happen. After the Zulu victory at Isandlwana, King Cetchshwayo’s strategy was to present the Zulu as merely defending themselves and that the British were in fact the aggressors. The Zulu siege of Rorke’s Drift gave the British grounds to launch a full-scale invasion of Zululand. Sadly, the scene where the Zulu praise the British as fellow braves never happened. Other issues include characterization issues with the characters depicted, but that is neither here nor there.

What is most impressive about this film is that it is largely egalitarian in its depiction of both sides. This is particularly serendipitous in the fact that it was the 1960s where it would have been all too easy to depict the Zulu as mere savages and the British as the great white heroes. We do see the fight from the British perspective, but the Zulu are never maligned. They are depicted as being just as brave and just as competent, that it was in fact the initial British dismissal of Zulu abilities that caused the massacre at Isandlwana.

The movie has been criticized for not being anti-imperialist enough. This stems from the fact that there is no meta-political conversation present in the film. It is just about the battle between these 150 British soldiers and these 4,000 Zulu. That’s it. The movie does have a definite anti-war sentiment, with Chard and Bromhead both sharing a moment at the end of the film both realizing how horrible it all is. It is for all these reasons that this film is definitely recommended.


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