Zulu is a 1964 epic war film depicting the Battle of Rorke’s Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War. It depicts 150 British soldiers, many of whom were sick and wounded patients in a field hospital, who successfully held off a force of 4,000 Zulu warriors.
The film was directed by American screenwriter Cy Endfield and produced by Stanley Baker and Endfield, with Joseph E. Levine as executive producer. The screenplay is by John Prebble and Endfield, based on an article by Prebble, a historical writer. The film stars Stanley Baker and introduces Michael Caine, in his first major role, with a supporting cast that includes Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson, James Booth, Nigel Green, Paul Daneman, Glynn Edwards, Ivor Emmanuel and Patrick Magee. Future South African political leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi played Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande, his great grandfather. The opening and closing narration is spoken by Richard Burton.
The film was first shown on the 85th anniversary of the actual battle, 22 January 1964 at the Plaza Theatre in the West End of London.
The attack on the mission station was not ordered by King Cetshwayo, as the audience is led to believe in the film. Cetshwayo had specifically told his warriors not to invade Natal, the British Colony. The attack was led by Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande, the King’s half-brother, who pursued fleeing survivors at Isandlwana across the river and then moved on to attack Rorke’s Drift. Although almost 20,000 rounds of ammunition were fired by the defenders, just under 400 Zulus were killed at Rorke’s Drift. A similar number were left behind when the Zulus retreated, being too badly wounded to move. Comments from veterans many years after the event suggest the British killed many of these wounded men in the battle’s aftermath, raising the total number of Zulu deaths to over 700.
The ending of the film is somewhat fictitious. There was no Zulu attack at dawn on 23 January 1879, which in the film led to the singing of “Men of Harlech”. There was only sparse fighting with a few remaining Zulus.
However at roughly 7:00 am, an Impi suddenly appeared, and the British manned their positions again. No attack materialized, as the Zulus had been on the move for six days prior to the battle. In their ranks were hundreds of wounded, and they were several days march from any supplies.
Around 8:00 am, another force appeared, the defenders abandoned their breakfast and manned their positions again. The approaching troops were the vanguard of Lord Chelmsford’s relief column.
The Zulus did not sing a song saluting fellow warriors, and they did not depart peacefully. They departed at the approach of the British relief column.
I am always amazed that when history is changed by a Hollywood movie it becomes real.
. It was brought out when the legend sounds better than what happened than believe the legend.