Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Zulu is a 1964 film depicting the 1879 Battle of Rorke's Drift between the colonial British and the Zulus. The film was directed by Cy Endfield and starred Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins and Michael Caine. The film is essentially of the Western movie genre, but located in South Africa with the traditional roles of the United States and Native Americans taken by the British and the Zulus respectively. While lacking any significant Zulu point of view, the film acknowledges the Zulus' bravery.
Tagline: Dwarfing The Mightiest! Towering Over The Greatest!
The Battle of Rorke's Drift was part of the Anglo-Zulu War, where 150 British redcoats held off 5,000 Zulu warriors. Eleven Victoria Crosses were won in the action, the most in a single battle, thus ensuring its place in British military history.
The film contains a number of factual errors, including:
- The Swedish missionaries (the Witts) were not at the Battle of Rorke's Drift.
- The 24th Regiment of Foot is described as a Welsh regiment: in fact, although based in Brecon, its designation was the 2nd Warwickshire Regiment ; it did not become the South Wales Borderers until 1881. A majority of its members were actually English.
- The song Men of Harlech features prominently as the regimental song; it did not become so until later.
- The actors have a more modern appearance than their characters did. Michael Caine, for example, with his shiny teeth and groomed blonde hair, bore little resemblance to the real Gonville Bromhead, who was rather old for his rank and had begun to go deaf. Many of the men, including Bromhead and Chard, wore full beards.
- The British infantrymen of the Anglo-Zulu War did not wear sparkling white helmets and scarlet uniforms - their uniforms were always covered in dust, and the soldiers dyed their helmets brown with tea, as white helmets could easily be seen from miles away in South Africa.
- The seniority of Chard and Bromhead (measured by their dates of commission) was greater than three months.
- There was no dispute over command. Lieutenant Chard had been left in command, due to seniority, by Major Spalding well before the battle.
- Private Henry Hook VC is depicted as a rogue; in fact he was a model soldier who later became a sergeant. While the film has him in the hospital "malingering, under arrest", he had actually been assigned there specifically to guard the hospital building.
- Conversely, Corporal Allen is depicted as a model soldier; in fact, he had recently been demoted from sergeant for drunkenness.
- Colour Sergeant Bourne is depicted as a big, hardened, middle-aged veteran; in fact, he was a small man and, in his twenties, the youngest colour sergeant in the British Army.
- The role of Reverend "Ammunition" Smith is completely overlooked.
- The building of defensive ramparts and initial defence of Rorke's Drift was in actual fact organized by Acting Assistant Commisary James Langley Dalton. His distinction was ignored until several years after the battle and the credit was given to Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead. While the film portrays Dalton as rather effete and utterly unsoldierly, the real Dalton had retired as a Quartermaster Sergeant after 22 years of service in the British Army before joining the Commissariat and Transport Department .
- A column of cavalry really did pass by the mission station at Rorke's Drift and refuse to help in its defense. Left out of the film is the fact that some of the defenders actually fired on them as they retreated, killing one of the cavalrymen.
- The real Sergeant Maxfield, like the film version, was delirious with fever. However, he was too weak to leave his bed and was stabbed to death by Zulus while the other sick and injured were being evacuated from the room.
- Private Cole was assigned to defend the hospital, not the perimeter. He was killed when he ran out of the hospital alone, possibly due to claustrophobia. Since he was killed by a bullet to the head, his last words in the film are unlikely to be authentic.
- Corporal Schiess was significantly younger than the actor who portayed him. At the time of his death in 1884 - five years after the battle - he was 28 years of age.
- Private Hitch was shot through the shoulder, not the leg.
- The rifles used by the Zulus were not taken from the British column at Isandlwana, but had been purchased much earlier. The Zulu impis that attacked Rorke's Drift had not participated in the Battle of Isandlwana.
- The ending is somewhat fictional. The Zulus did not sing a song saluting fellow braves and depart. They fled at the approach of a British relief column. This concession was made during filming for the current Zulu Chief, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Awards & Homages
Other films have made small homages to Zulu:
- In a contrived scene in Tango & Cash , the title characters compare the month of their birthdays. The results are the same that the commanders in Zulu have when comparing their commission dates (May and February).
- In opening scene of Gladiator, as the armies approach each other, the sound (from this movie) of the Zulu marching chant can be heard.
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