Zulu (1964)

screenshot from Zulu

Directed by: Cy Endfield
Screenwriter(s): John Prebble, Cy Endfield
Starring: Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson, James Booth, Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Richard Burton (narrator)
Genre: War / Drama / Historical
Country: UK
Running time: 2h 18m
Rating: 10 out of 10

In 1879, during the Zulu wars, man of the people Lt. John Chard (Stanley Baker) and upperclass Lt Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine) are in charge of defending the isolated Natal outpost of Rorke’s Drift from Zulu tribesmen, holding out during an Alamo-like siege until they are overwhelmed, losing the battle, but going down in history as heroes.

It’s impossible to overstate the resonance that this real-life event had at the time. The British expedition in Africa was faring so badly that there were calls in parliament and in the newspapers to abandon it and to concentrate on trying to quell unrest in Jamaica and India. But newspaper reports of the heroism of the men at Rorke’s Drift changed the tide of public opinion permanently. Without the victory, the British Empire would probably not have included Africa at all. And the military achievement is not to be overlooked, either. There were 100 fit and 40 injured men at Rorke’s Drift and they faced 3,000 Zulus. And the Zulus were no savages: they were a modern nation with advanced military strategy and organisation.

Cy Endfield, director of this hymn to the British Empire, was an American Communist sympathiser driven to European exile by the blacklist, which explains why the script, by him and left-wing historian John Prebble, pares away the jingoistic flag-waving of previous Empire epics to concentrate on the rigours of life at the end of the world and the remarkable clash between the highly trained troops and the Zulu warriors. It concentrates on the Kipling-like qualities of the red-coated Welshmen who stand against the impressive Zulu armies through wave after wave of attack, providing a spectacle at once visceral and moving. And it also manages to celebrate the men who gave their lives for some one else's glory, while never glorifying the cause itself.

A television perennial, this is one of those films that gets better with each viewing, thanks especially to the performances of Baker as the gritty lead, Caine as his effete comrade, Jack Hawkins as the alcoholic missionary, Rev Otto Witt, Nigel Green as the old-school colour sergeant and James Booth as the roguish Private Henry Hook.

This page was originally corrected by [Diana Blackwell](

Further reading is an impressive site dedicated to preserving the memory of the 11 soldiers who were awarded the Victoria Cross for their efforts at Rorke’s Drift. There’s a section on the film version, which assesses not only the film itself, but how close it was to actual events. There’s also some exclusive photos, like Sir Stanley Baker at the grave of John Rouse Merriott Chard, the officer he portrayed in the film. Highly recommended.

For your listening pleasure


The pod is heading to South Africa to build bridges, lose a tenor and get drunk with Jack Hawkins. It promises to be very a BOER-ing time. Joining John Rain to practice his psalms is actor, writer and bloke off of the telly, Tony Way.

This site is not affiliated with SMERSHPod in any way. We just like it.