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Even Better Now...and More Vivid in DVD,
This review is from: Zulu  [DVD] (DVD)
I well recall the first time I saw this film. It was during the summer of 1964. My family and I were vacationing with another family, sharing a rental house on the New England shore. Zulu was the only film available to see at the village theatre. My friend and I could not convince our wives to join us so we went alone. (The title deterred them.) After the deliberately slow introduction of setting, circumstances, and characters, director Cy Raker Endfield begins to accelerate the plot developments and soon our emotions became wholly engaged in the subsequent action. Later, the more we raved about Zulu, the more reassured our wives became that they had not missed anything special. They still think that and I could not disagree more.
The film recreates an especially important segment of British military history: the siege of the Rorke's Drift outpost in Natal, South Africa, in January of 1879, when a company of 120 soldiers (29 Welsh, 50 English and the rest made up of Scots, Irish and other nationalities) defended the outpost against more than 4,000 Zulu warriors. Their commanding officer (a lieutenant played by Stanley Baker who also produced the film) and one other officer (played by Michael Caine) had no prior combat experience. Fortunately, they are supported by Color Sergeant Bourne (masterfully portrayed by Nigel Green) as they and their comrades beat back one ferocious attack after another. The carnage is substantial and graphic but never gratuitous. As some indication of the defenders' courage, the viewer later learns that from 1856 until 1964 when the film was made, only 1,344 Victoria Crosses had been awarded...eleven to men in the Rorke's Drift contingent. (Of special note is the fact that the voice-over narration which includes this information is provided by Richard Burton.) Aside from the combat itself, the film offers so much else. For example, the relationship between the two officers which proceeds from initial discomfort to mutual respect. Also the sub plot involving the Reverend Otto Witt (Jack Hawkins) and his daughter Margareta (Ulla Jacobsson) who are allowed to depart a Zulu camp in peace, arriving at Rorke's Drift before the Zulus do. Witt tries but fails to convince Lt. John Chard (Baker) to avoid a military confrontation. Finally, special credit must be given to James Booth for his indelible portrayal of Private Henry Hook, a malcontent and malingerer who (in the crucible of ferocious hand-to-hand combat) becomes transformed into a reluctant but admirable hero, one of the eleven Victoria Cross recipients.
As my friend and I departed the village theatre almost 40 years ago, we said nothing to each other. Only later, in response to our wives' inquiries, did we express our reactions to what we had experienced, albeit vicariously. Then and now, we agree, although the film celebrates courage among both the Welsh troops and their Zulu adversaries, it does not celebrate the circumstances at Rorke's Drift which require it. Endfield and Baker leave no doubt about this point at the film's conclusion. Nor do I wish to when completing this brief commentary.
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Initial post: 24 Dec 2012 02:31:25 GMT
120 Welsh Soldiers? Nope - 29 Welsh Soldiers, 50 English and the rest made up of Scots, Irish and other Nationalities.
In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2013 09:41:55 GMT
Robert Morris says:
Thank you for noting the error. I have corrected it. Much obliged.
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