Zulu & Zulu Dawn – This Means War! week

Okay October is over so I’ll try to watch some non-horror movies.

Zulu and Zulu Dawn are currently available on instant Netflix.



Zulu (1964) – Not rated

Based on a real-life battle, this action epic follows a group of British soldiers stationed in South Africa who must defend their tiny outpost against an attack by an overwhelming force of Zulu warriors.

Zulu is an absolute classic. It is the best film ever made about a besieged force, the more so because most of it is basically true (personalities were changed and a few facts). While this was directed by Cy Endfield, Zulu was a labor of love for Stanley Baker.

The Zulus in the film had never seen a motion picture, much less been in one. After filming, the natives were given the animals used in the film as apartheid prevented them from being paid as much as white men. Cast and crew were under strict orders not to fraternize with the natives as relations carried a penalty of seven years hard labor. The role of Cetshwayo is played by his great grandson, Chief Buthelezi.

Zulu, along with Alfie, helped propel Michael Caine to stardom. Here Caine plays Lt. Bromhead, second in command to Stanley Baker’s Lt. Chard. Both leads here are impressive as officers stretched to their limits. Even so, Nigel Green shows them up in every scene as Colour-Sgt. Bourne. Other standouts are Patrick Magee as a beleaguered surgeon and Jack Hawkins as a missionary.

The first act introduces us to the Zulu forces and the small garrison at Rorke’s Drift. I liked that they didn’t try to dramatize the battle at Isandhlwana but rather had word show up from some of the cavalry retreating past Rorke’s Drift.

People Listen: Yes, that is Richard Burton’s wonderful voice doing the narration.

Zulu Dawn


Zulu Dawn (1979) – Rated PG

Douglas Hickox helms this authentically staged epic dramatizing the clash between thousands of Zulu warriors and a considerably smaller number of British soldiers stationed in Natal, South Africa, in 1879.”

It was a very good idea to follow up Zulu with a prequel to set the stage as it were, especially since the events following Zulu are rather a foregone conclusion as a modern army moves into action to subdue a native people. Zulu Dawn details some of the pre-war negotiations between Lord Chelmsford and King Cetshwayo and builds up to the encounter at Isandhlwana which takes up the third act.

Zulu Dawn stars Peter O’Toole as Lord Chelmsford (the British General Custer as it were) and Burt Lancaster as Col. Durnford. The movie has a fine supporting cast including Sir John Mills, Denholm Elliott, Nigel Davenport, Simon Ward, and Freddie Jones. A young Bob Hoskins steals all of his scenes as C.S.M. Williams.

Unfortunately the storytelling in Zulu Dawn is rather flat. I can really only recommend this to people interested in the subject matter. For a military movie, there is essentially no action until the third act. The battle at Isandhlwana is well-filmed but just doesn’t have the intensity of Zulu.

If both of these movies fascinated you, I highly recommend the book, The Washing of the Spears, which details the rise and fall of the Zulu nation.