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FILM REVIEWS ZULU (1964) Over the years, "Imperial" films like Gunga Din, Four Feathers, or King Solomon's Mines, have been good box office in both Great Britain and the United States. Few were strong as historical recreations, but an outstanding exception appeared in the mid-1960s. Zulu (1964), produced by co-star Stanley Baker and Cy Endfield and directed by Endfield, portrayed an extraordinary single day's action in the Zulu War of 1879. A British army invaded Zululand in January 1879 with the confident intention of dismantling the powerful Zulu state. On January 22 a main British army column was surprised and destroyed at Isandhlwana. A few miles away the British had established a field hospital and supply depot at a mission station called Rorke's Drift. This becomes the focus for the balance of Zulu as a single company prepares to defend itself against a Zulu corps some 4,000 strong. Two young Lieutenants (Stanley Baker and Michael Caine) organize fortifications of wagons, boxes, and mealie bags. When the expected attack comes it becomes an almost unbroken assault by wave after wave of Zulu through the rest of the day and the following night. Fighting often is hand to hand as the British lines are pressed in; room by room the burning, converted hospital is surrendered. By morning the Zulu break off, leaving the benumbed troopers to realize gradually that they have survived after all (and won an unprecedented eleven Victoria Crosses in the process). Gerald Herman recently summarized how dramatic films must modify history in order to be coherent in a two-hour presentation: ...films generally collapse the number of characters and events through which the action takes place, telescope the duration of and time between events, and over-rationalize and over-simplify the motives, events, and results themselves. Finally, since the filmmakers cannot assume that their audiences are familiar with the history they are 'recreating,' they compensate by casting the motivations, characters and events in familiar, often stereotypical molds J 16 The events at Rorke's Drift have been documents in extraordinary detail 2 and, while using all the shortcuts enumerated by Herman, Zulu offers a faithful reproduction. Characters are reduced in number and moved around, as with Private Henry Hook, V. C. (James Booth) in the hospital defense. Lt. Chard (Stanley Baker) and Lt. Bromhead (Michael Caine) represent social classes as well as individual heroes and are a contrast to their largely Welch troops (with their penchant for breaking into song). The film invents some scenes, but with purpose. An early visit to King Cetshwayo's Kraal by the missionary (Jack Hawkins) and his lovely daughter (Ulla Jacobsson) did not happen, but it permits the viewer to get a glimpse of the mass wedding of a regiment released from required bachelorhood by the king. When Jacobsson is seized by a warrior, the latter is immediately executed at a signal from Cetshwayo. Thus, the viewer is quickly exposed to aspects of the regimental based Zulu military system and the king's supreme authority, the end of which were among British aims. Numerous other scenes portray the discipline and bravery of the Zulu regiments and while brief, scenes focusing on Britain's African opponents seem quite accurate in detail and general tone. ^ Zulu makes no effort to explain the causes of the war or even to suggest its later conduct, or the eventual annexation of Zululand. It does, however, offer excellent flashes of two quite different societies which found themselves locked in deadly struggle in one of the more dramatic episodes in the partition of Africa. It shows concern for detailed accuracy, is fast moving, holds viewers' attention throughout and even creates a sense of exhaustion. Good filmmaking, it can, with preparation and follow-up, also be used as good history. Eugene P. A. Schleh University of Southern Maine Gerald Herman, "For God and Country. Khartoum (1966) as History and as Object Lesson' for Global Policemen," Film & History, vol. IX, no. 1 (February 1979, pp. 8-9). Accounts can be found in Donald R. Morris, The Washing of the Spears (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965); R. Furneaux, The Zulu War: Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 16-17
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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