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16th February 2002The film "Zulu"
By Mark Hepworth
The 1963 film "Zulu" is dramatic and generally well written. However it is practically wrecked by its portrayal of the Zulus as blundering noble savages. The Zulus are despatched quickly and cleanly; no wonder given their rotten battlefield tactics. It isn't just Hollywood fantasies which change the facts of history to suit their own ends.

Also I dislike the film's relentless anglophobia. Bring on a decent remake!

17th February 2002Greg King
Despite its faults Zulu is probably responsible in generating interest in the Zulu war.How many of us were sparked into finding more out about the campain,its faults may be many but it does deserve some recognition for bringing to light a campain that may have been forgotten by all but a few .Lets hope it continues to stimulate the discussions we have on this great site.
20th February 2002Diana Blackwell
Could you elaborate on what it is you find offensive in the film's portrayals of the Zulus? Maybe point to a particular scene that bugs you? I find the film's politics high-minded and decent. When you complain that the Zulus are "despatched quickly and cleanly," I can't help wondering what's wrong with that and what you would have preferred to see. Are you calling for grislier, more protracted death scenes, or what?
Also, I don't think the film is too anglophilic. Regional and class antagonisms abound, and disaffected and anti-imperialist viewpoints get a hearing.

20th February 2002Mark Hepworth
I'm not looking for grislier, gorier death scenes. As the Zulus had ealier defeated a modern European army they were clearly a force to be reckoned with. That they would stand and be shot at while their Commander assessed the garrison's firepower is ludicrous. That scene bugged me. As for "despatched quickly and cleanly" I mean that the Zulus are portrayed as rifle fodder whereas the camera lingers over the defenders' ordeal; obviously we are being asked to identify with them and their agonies. War is hell, everyone suffers. But not in this film. For a modern comparison watch the Somalis being killed in "Black Hawk Down". The effect is the same.
Anglophilic? Anglophobic perhaps. How about "...foreigners from England...", "..bloody Englishman.." , and other snatches of dialogue to help get the point across. A Welsh Braveheart with the Zulus as the fall guys. And about as true.
20th February 2002Diana Blackwell
Diana's the name, sir.
Yeah, that "counting the guns" scene is a bit whacked, I grant you. (Though it produces only 60 casualties and seems to have been intended, paradoxically, to show us the Zulus' fearlessness and military sophistication.)
As for your larger point, about "rifle fodder" ...wasn't that pretty much true? Weren't the Zulus essentially mowed down?
Seems to me your basic gripe is that "Zulu" presents the battle as a British victory, whereas you'd have preferred to see a more "balanced" treatment with more emphasis on the Zulu defeat. (Am I right?)
The problem with that is, unless you want to get sort of avant garde, a coherent story has to have a unified viewpoint. Switching back and forth between antagonists would be emotionally confusing to the audience. I think "Zulu" does a pretty good job of glorifying the Zulus and encouraging us to admire them, while allowing us to identify with the outnumbered British "underdogs" and, thus, to enjoy their victory. In other words, I think "Zulu" is already "balancd."
Sorry about mis-reading your point about anglophobia. The lines you refer to are there, of course...and so are various other slurs and epithets against other groups: "dirty" Welshmen, Irishmen, flamin' officers, damned rankers, military geniuses, etc. etc. Like it or not, that's how people actually talk. But most bigotted lines of dialogue are balanced with either a snappy comeback or an equal and opposite bit of bigotry elsewhere.
20th February 2002Arthur Bainbridge
Zulu is by and large a pretty accurate movie,I think the class system is well represented from Bromhead to Hook.
Perhaps the surprise Zulu attack on Issandlwana is a bit over the top but its a great film.
Zulu Dawn tried to show both sides and failed despite some impressive battle scenes,I can't see a remake bein g made at all.Zulu has stood the test of time.
21st February 2002Mark Hepworth
Apologies for getting your name wrong!
I repeat, the film works dramatically but the plot is incoherent and daft even with its "unified viewpoint". The problem is that the wretched thing has become a sort of cultural phenomenon over the years. Anyone daring to criticise is dismissed as a heretic. Thanks to web sites like this we may all learn more about the truth and discuss it. The time is ripe for a re-assessment (remake?)
Your assertion about my "basic gripe" was way off beam. For example, the film begins with an alleged document describing the situation in Natal and finishes with a list of VC winners. Everything that happens in between we take on trust. Except it didn't happen that way. Were the Zulus really as gormless as that? (only 60 casualties?!) How could the Zulus be "mowed down" when the battle took place mostly at night? Why do they leave? Why do they come back? Did I read that the Director was a communist from Hollwood?
Next time any of us sit down for the umpteenth time to watch the Men of Harlech unleash hell on those crazy Zulus we would do well to remind ourselves that it's just a fabrication. As a representation of what really happened that night it isn't even close.
Out of interest does anyone know of a Zulu reaction to the film?
21st February 2002Diana Blackwell
I'm still trying to get where you're coming from.
You'd like more accuracy and a clearer explanation of the Zulus' strategy and movements. Right? I can understand those feelings, even if I don't share them.
I'm still puzzled by your objection to the "mowing down" phenomenon, though.
Didn't Cetshewayo warn his men not to attack the British in a fortified position because of this very danger? Didn't the Zulus charge unprotected straight into British gunfire? Didn't the Zulus consequently suffer much greater casualties than the British? This all seems true. The fact that the Zulus lost/quit doesn't make them stupid (nor do they look stupid in the film, IMHO). Again, I'm really curious as to how you would dramatize this sort of warfare differently.
Endfield was blacklisted during the red scare. I consider this a point in his favor.
21st February 2002Mark Hepworth
Where am I coming from? I'll try again.
"Zulu" is supposed to be about what happened at Rorke's Drift in 1879 during the Zulu war. However as a historical film it lacks accuracy and strains the credulity of the viewer. Obviously personal opinion counts in this discussion. You admire the film for its high minded approach and decent outlook. I don't. I will say that some of the dialogue is indeed memorable, albeit tinged at times with the anglophobia I mentioned before.
To reiterate, the film does not represent what really happened during this conflict.
Only by analysing this piece of early Sixties puff and identifying its inherent weaknesses could a more truthful film be made, although I doubt it would ever attain the popularity of "Zulu". "Zulu Dawn" tried to be more balanced but flopped. Or maybe it was just a useless film.
I don't imply that the Zulus look stupid in the film. I am saying that what they do during the film doesn't make sense. Once more, it didn't happen that way.
That Endfield was blacklisted during the red scare is a point in his favour. That he was in Hollywood to start with counts against him. If he was so interested in making an anti imperialist film then why not do it about Isandlwana? That battle made Rorke's Drift seem a minor skirmish in comparison.
21st February 2002Bob Bennett
First of all, I have to salute a man that is willing to table a discussion such as this in this forum, a tough crowd.
Second, I will have to disagree with your initial statement that 1) the film depicted the Zulus as blundering noble savages, and 2) the film depicted the Zulus as having rotten battlefield tactics.
1) One of the initial scenes shows a Zulu wedding ceremony, showing a stable society that is built on tradition, lead by a Monarch. 2) As to the Zulus battle tactics, there is a wonderful scene in which Adendorff of the N.N.C. explains the simple but lethal tactics of the Zulus fighting bull buffalo to Chard and Bromhead.
True the Zulus withdrew because of the siting of Chelmsford and the remnants of his number III column, not the "saluting fellow braves" in the film. But all in all, historically speaking, I believe it does a fantastic job in portraying the battle.
21st February 2002Diana Blackwell
Calm down, dear friend. I'm not trying to trap you, but to genuinely understand your position.
So you *don't* think the film makes the Zulus look stupic? I thought you did ("gormless," "blundering") but okay, fine, then we agree on that.
You think the film is too anglophobic. (I disagree.)
You think the film is too inaccurate ("fabrication" etc.). You're right that it's inaccurate...the issue is "too." Is it possible, Mark, that what you really want is a documentary rather than a dramatization? I mean, let's face it, the real battle had no music, no "salute," no brandy-drinking scene, no wise old Colour Sergeant, no red coats even, according to some sources...starts to sound like a whole nuther world, doesn't it. And maybe it would work as a film, but please realize that accuracy alone would be no guarantee of that. Works of art often sacrifice literal accuracy for emotional truth by means of such techniques as selective focus, exaggeration, and , yes, invention. I think the world is big enough for both of them, you know? The historical facts and the movie. They're both cool, they both gain in interest from the other's's not like you have to make a choice. didn't say anything further about "mowing down" so I remain puzzled there.
About impression of his career is that he was on the fringe, not some high-powered Hollywood insider. I don't actually know why he chose RD rather than Isandhlwana, but I would imagine it's because RD makes a better story. Outnumbered "underdogs" survive by sheer grit: a classic feelgood formula.
22nd February 2002Gary Laiberty
Hi all,
Say, Mark may I ask you something? What "Modern European" army are you talking about? If you are talking about the Boers,yes they did have modern weapons. But, the Boers tactics were far from "Modern European" tactics of the 19th century. I am a student of British Military History of the late 19th century, (an 'old' student,49 this year), I have been study for some years now. Well, just wanted to clear things up. About the 'movie'...HEY GUYS, it's just a's History vs. Hollywood,or should I say PineWood ( I think I got the name right). And Diana...Hi...the British Army went into Zululand with a variety of the traditional scarlets (red) ,blues,and green Uniforms. Just to set things straight...... ;)
22nd February 2002Mark Hepworth
Hi All!
Yup, it's only a film, but I'm a Geordie and I've got my dander up now. I shall stick to my guns on this one so here goes. Deep breath...
I'm talking about the British Army defeated by the Zulus at Isandlwana in 1879. This suggests that the Zulus were a force to be reckoned with.
The Zulu tactics in the film are indeed gormless and daft. They spend more time looking menacing and singing than fighting. Perhaps I should have qualified this earlier. My fault. Whether the Zulus look stupid themselves in the film is a matter for the individual to ascertain.
Of course we need drama in films! I never said that Zulu wasn't dramatic, only that it doesn't tell the truth. For this reason it remains uncool, at least in my humble opinion.
I refuse to discuss any further "mowing down" as to continue down that path serves no purpose, therefore you must remain puzzled.
Since when has a communist ever worried about a "classic feelgood formula"? It's pure Hollywood.( Not to say that Hollywood films are all bad.)
Blundering noble savages. Hmmm... What I gather from the opening scene is that the Zulu people are presented as a brave, powerful but unpredictable foe. And very warlike. The spearing of the uppity warrior who grabs the missionary's daughter suggests random justice or even cruelty, not reason and logic. In other words not like us.
The Horns of the Buffalo are nullified by firing down on the post from the hills. As their most successfull battle tactic has become redundant ( they might hit their own men) I deduce that they blundered; as they did by standing around being shot at. In the film that is.
Hope all this clears things up!
27th February 2002Gary Laliberty
Hi All,
Just to lighten up things here. I just found some movie trivial about "ZULU". So here goes......
1) On what date did the movie "ZULU" open in England?
2) What was Michael Caine's painful memories of his time on location?
Ok, this is some "Behind the Scenes" facts...This one is for Diana...Did you know that all the scenes shot for James Booth as 'Henry Hook',and for Patrick Magee as Surgeon Major Reynolds were now entirely in the studio. Neither one set foot in Africa.
Well, the answers to the two questions next time.
27th February 2002Gary Laliberty
I see a mistake in my above post. After... "Reynolds were now..." should be "Reynolds were shot..."
27th February 2002John Young

Don't you have any harder ones?

1, 22nd January, 1964, the Royal Premiere was held at the Plaza Cinema, Leicester Square, London. The late H.R.H. Princess Margaret was present. Proceeds for the evening going to the Army Benevolent Fund.
The choir of the Welsh Guards sang 'Men of Harlech' on stage.

2, Being thrown from his horse, whilst returning from the hunting scene. My friend, John Poyner, quickly had to double for him, and ride the horse.

As to the fact about James Booth and Patrick Magee, I'd all ready broken that to Diana, but being the true gentleman, I discreetly informed her outside of the forum. The same goes for the two actors playing 716 Robert Jones V.C. & 593 William Jones V.C. Yet Paul Daneman, Sergeant Maxfield was on location, despite not appearing in any exterior shots.

If you want useless facts - how about the Fire Brigade attending Twickenham Studios, as no-one had bothered to inform them about the night-time shot of the blazing hospital, obviously a breakdown in communications.

John Young,
Anglo-Zulu War Research Society

27th February 2002Ian Woodason
2) Weren't Sir Michael Caine's most painful memories of the dose of 'Cetshwayo's Revenge' he got that meant he spent a lot of off camera time sat on the toilet?

27th February 2002Gary Laliberty
Hi All,
Well, John I know that 'you' would get the answers to the questions... ;) Oh well, looks like I need to get harder one's... heehee
27th February 2002John
"You asked me, I told you."
28th February 2002Ian Essex
Name of third Zulu from the left in the initial attack?
If you know that one, I'll be scared.
28th February 2002Vaughan Birbeck
Like Diana Blackwell I am confused by Mark Hepworth's remarks. I have no
axe to grind and am in no way as expert on the war as some correspondents
here. However, I've always felt the portrayal of the Zulu people and warriors
in the film was very fair. Bromhead's crack about "cowardly blacks" is instantly
squelched by Adendorff, and the fact that the Zulu have the courage, the
self-belief and the will to continue their attacks seems to be used as a point
for admiration rather than denigration.

As for Anglophobia, surely one of the points the script-writer John Prebble (a
Scot!) wanted to make was that one of the great powers in the world was
making war on a native people using the working class of one of its home
principalities (one man forced out of farming because there was "no future
in it"). If there is a streak of left-wing thinking here, why not? We get enough
propaganda from the other side.

At one level the film uses the Rorke's Drift action as a stage for playing out
some interesting political points. At another it is an exciting adventure which
is even better for being based in fact. Just enjoy it, please!
28th February 2002Diana Blackwell
Right on, Vaughan!!
One quibble, though: it's "no adventure," not "no future" (*that* was the Sex Pistols). :)
1st March 2002Bill Power
The Zulu are presented as a brave,honourable people! See the opening sequence,all the bribes are virgins & all the grooms are brave[Witt makes a rather Bolshie comment on the European practice,something about Tin]! Later,when a bucko tries the armstrong on Witt's daughter he is given the goodnews,having disgraced the people! Again.when the Witt's are ' ooking it from RD,the signal is given to back off-they were non-combatants & not attacked-would that such standards applied in our " Modern Civilized" era-do I hear Coventry,Dresden,ad nauseam?!! As for gormless tactics.this is explained as the Horns,being the standard drill. RD was the 1st time the Zulus attacked a fort! An army does not change deployment instantly,complete breakdown of the C&C structure would occur! See Pullein's disposition @ Isandlwana,a young Pup Lt. still wet behind the ears[like Bromhead]following "The Book"-open order deployment! Right,on to Endfield[Are you now,or have you ever been-McCarthy & his chief Prosecutor were bent & twisted-completely Barking]& Prebbles! Zulu presents a Marxian analysis of the " KlassenSchrift"-wrongly translated as"ClassWar"! Let's look @ the characters-all represent the class.The rank & file are are Lumpenproletariat[Army service rather than jail-Hook,Hinch]Proletariat-the Welsh farmhand.Cole the paperhanger,the supervisor,trusted functionaries,Chard,a professional,the top layer of the Proletariat,not yet in the Petit-Bourgousie,as he didn't own his means of production,being employed by Vicky. Bromhead.Bourgousie,purchased his Commision.a complete Drongo! So, the stage is set for the Drama,as the Materialist Dialectic unfolds! Down by the river,Chard is trying to do a job,all hands,officer out hunting for fresh meat for officers,Tenors[artists]put to work! Things go pearshaped-the rotted anchors let go,Chard dives in to save the Pont! The boyos have a chuckle,until the sgt.tosses them in-"You heard that Officer of Engineers!] Some lipmusic from the Lads! Bromhead minces on the scene,offering to clean the kit-one look smart in front of the men-no problem,old boy.I'm not offering to do it myself !I could continue with this,but it would fill pages! Suffice it to say,Capitalism adorrns it's high-tech toys with a fetishism,workers are of no consequence-Chard-"If it's a's Short-Chamber Boxer-Henry .45 miracle! An a bayonet-with some Guts behind it !! The LAD's Rule !! OK!!
2nd March 2002Edward Bear
Pity, this preference for the trivialisations of the film Zulu rather than the much more impressive story of real historical events. "Disneyfication" of the story of the Zulu War helps nobody to achieve a mature understanding of its historical significance and its devastating impact on the Zulu people for decades afterwards.
4th March 2002Mark Hepworth
Does anyone know of a Zulu reaction to the film that made Michael Caine a star?
5th March 2002Howard Hong
the movie Zulu depicted the zulu's as the enemy but in real life, the British were the big threat. I find it dissapointing that the Zulu's were killed off so quickly whereas in real life, they were fighting to at least 8pm at night.
3rd May 2002Stephen
Just to correct Vaughan Birbeck...John Prebble is a Canadian. He's from Saskatchewan.