Rorke’s Drift Part 22 – The movies  

I needed/wanted a slight break from painting but have no fear I certainly haven’t lost my motivation for this project, quite the opposite in fact. However when you’re climbing a mountain it’s good to stop, have a cup of tea and collect your thoughts before pushing on. So, I thought I’d spend this little painting break discussing the two movies related to this monumental project of mine. 

Some of you have seen Zulu (1964) and some of you may have seen both Zulu and the prequel Zulu Dawn (1979) but via the comments, here on the blog, I’ve come to realise that some of you have seen neither. So I guess I want to explore the movies and thus explain why this project has come about. In the process I might even persuade you to watch them, or at least to watch Zulu. 

At a guess I’d say my UK blogger buddies have been more inclined to give it a go because the United Kingdom were featured heavily in both movies. Let’s not forget that Boers were also there and even a Swede but most importantly, of course, Zulus (Native Africans) were there as it was their land. 

I first saw the movie Zulu as a young nipper back in England when I was six or seven and I remember being captivated by it immediately. One of my favourite things to do back then was watch Western (cowboy and Indian) movies with Dad and then suddenly he put this movie on and my young mind was a little confused at first. You’ll need to excuse my politically incorrect mind here but, as I say, I was only young. I saw the Zulus as the Indians and the Redcoats as the well dressed cowboys. They even had a corral with wagons, kinda. 

I had no understanding of what was really going on, that it was based on a real battle and that a massacre had happened a few hours before the battle of Rorke’s Drift. 

All I knew was that the battle was epic and there were guns and spears and stuff haha. 

Many years passed and occasionally I’d put Zulu on and I’d always enjoy the film. Once the internet was a thing I started to look into it a little just like I did with other battles I was aware of from movies like The Alamo (The John Wayne one), The Battle of Britain, The Big Red One and Glory. 

For some reason Zulu (Rorke’s Drift) and The Alamo spoke to me the most. There was something about the story of underdogs going up against insurmountable odds that really appealed to me and fuelled my imagination. I won’t get too psychological here but maybe it had something to do with Dad teaching me to never be a coward, never back down, stand up for myself etc no matter what. I really did take that quite literally. 

My first year of high school was pretty tough and I had the stereotypical bully (big freckled face bastard haha, please note I have nothing against freckles) picking on me until I “sorted him out” one day and he never bothered me again. 

It was through the internet that I discovered the prequel to Rorke’s Drift, Zulu Dawn and hired it from the video shop (back when there were such things). Straight away I remember feeling it was definitely no Zulu. 

So for those of you uninitiated, or for those of you that are just interested, let’s do a deeper dive on the two movies. 

Zulu Dawn (1979 – Released on the 100th anniversary of the battle of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift)

In 1879 South Africa, the administrators of the British Cape Colony have designs to eliminate the Zulus as a hindrance to their colonial economy. The British present King Cetshwayo, leader of the Zulu Nation,  with an impossible ultimatum to provoke a war they are sure they can win easily with their modern and sophisticated weaponry against natives with spears. However, that war proves more difficult than the arrogant British commander, Lord Chelmsford, expects as his overburdened army fruitlessly searches for the elusive enemy. Then, in the shadow of a hill called Isandlwana, the overconfident British army learns, the hard way, just how badly they have underestimated the tactical skill and might of the Zulu army. 

The film, starring some superb actors like Burt Lancaster, Peter O’toole and Bob Hoskins was written by Cy Enfield who directed Zulu fifteen years prior. Zulu Dawn was directed by Douglas Hickox who went on to direct the TV series of “The Dirty Dozen” in 1988 and also some of the episodes of “Sins” starring Joan Collins in 1987. I always had a bit of a thing for Joan Collins haha. 

The score was done by Elmer Bernstein who also did the score for some fantastic classic movies like The Magnificent Seven, The Blues Brothers (one of my all time favourites), Stripes, Cape Fear, The Three Amigos and  Ghostbusters. 

So despite a great story, some brilliant acting and a really cool score the movie was a bit of a flop. 

Why? Well, put simply, it was No Zulu. 

In all fairness it is a very good movie and, in my opinion, highly underrated but it is clearly in the shadow of Zulu. It’s like comparing Star Wars Episode One “The Phantom Menace” to Star Wars Episode Four “A New Hope”. 

Some say it was a more accurate movie than Zulu in a lot of ways but there are still a lot of holes and/or fictional things that happen but also we must remember that out of 1300 odd souls (on the British side) that fought at Isandlwana only 60 managed to escape the slaughter. Therefore first hand accounts are scarce. 

I’d recommend this movie to anyone who has an interest in the Anglo-Zulu war or to anyone who enjoys War movies. The battle scenes are on an epic scale and the confusion of the day is portrayed very well. Out of ten I’d give it a solid seven. 

Bob Hoskins

Zulu (1964) 

In 1879, the Zulu nation hands colonial British forces a resounding defeat in battle. A nearby regiment of the British Army takes over a station run by a missionary (Jack Hawkins) and his daughter (Ulla Jacobsson) as a supply depot and hospital under the command of Lieutenant John Chard (Stanley Baker) and his subordinate Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine). Unable to abandon their wounded soldiers even in dire circumstances, the regiment defend their station against the Zulu warriors.

I won’t harp on about Zulu too much as I’m pretty sure that, by now from all the posts I’ve done in the last couple of months, you know how much of a fan of the epic movie I am. 


I emailed my Dad to ask him a few questions and thought it’d be nice to share his experience and thoughts on Zulu. 

“I first saw Zulu at The Ambassador Cinema, Farnham Road, Slough, when it first came out. Like most people, nowadays, I watch most films on TV, either through free-to-air, a streaming service or on DVD.  Though I reckon that home viewing is generally okay, I’ve always felt that some films should be seen in the pictures to fully enjoy the spectacular awesomeness of them. I’m thinking particularly of old epics, like, The Vikings, Sparticus and, of course, Zulu.” 

“I can’t remember now, which mates were with me at the time, perhaps I was alone. I do remember being totally enthralled with the film right from the start.. I was captivated by Michael Caine’s performance, as up to then I’d always considered him a somewhat lightweight actor. I remember being drawn to James Boothe’s character – he was a bit of a larrikin. I can’t remember, now, what part James played, but I’m aware it was based on a real person and that he won a Victoria Cross. The character, I mean, not James Booth!”

“I’ve seen the film a number of times now and own a DVD. I still enjoy it and it has never lost its allure for me. Yes, some of the scenes are a bit staged and clunky for today’s tastes but for me it stands the test of time. Which is more than I can say for the much later film, Zulu Dawn. I’m pretty sure you would have watched it with me, in England, on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon.”

“I think I always knew it was based on real events but I don’t recall ever looking it up at the library (or the internet!).”

“One thing that has fascinated me in later years, is how those old epics were made without the aid of CGI. Back in the day, those old films were really made with a cast of thousands, eh?”

Cheers Dad.

The budget for Zulu, baring in mind this was the 60’s, was 1.7 million and it made 8 million at the box office.

Cry Enfield directed, produced and wrote the screenplay and Stanley Baker (LT Chard) was executive Producer. 

240 Zulu extras were employed for the battle scenes, bused in from their tribal homes over 100 miles away. Around 1,000 additional tribesmen were filmed by the second unit in Zululand. Eighty South African military servicemen were cast as soldiers.

That iconic soundtrack, that always gets my heart racing, was composed by John Barry who is mostly known for his work with James Bond films but also other iconic movies like Dances With Wolves, Midnight Cowboy, King Kong (1976) and The Golden Child. 

On its initial release in 1964, it was one of the biggest box-office hits of all time in the British market. For the next 12 years it remained in constant cinema circulation before making its first appearance on television. 

One more interesting little tidbit is…

The producers had to keep their political views in check when they made the decision to shoot the film in South Africa, then in the grip of Apartheid. There were strict, legally enforced guidelines regarding the degree of freedom permitted to the cast and crew. It was impressed upon the 60-odd British visitors that sexual relations with people of other races would result in possible imprisonment, deportation or worse. Warned that miscegenation was a flogging offence, Baker is reported to have asked if he could have the lashes while doing it. The authorities were not amused.

For me Zulu was everything I wanted as a kid growing up watching war and western movies with my old man. As an adult, who has a keen interest in military history, watching it I’ve felt compelled to learn more and more and more. As a hobby enthusiast I get to bring it all to life, much like a kid playing with his soldiers haha. 

It’s one of my top twenty favourite movies and I give it an easy nine out of ten. 



22 thoughts on “Rorke’s Drift Part 22 – The movies  ”

  1. Great reviews of both movies, and have seen both many times, the biggest problem with Zulu Dawn was it came out after Zulu, if they had been released the other way round, people would have probably been more inclined to say Zulu Dawn, was a good movie, and then when they watched Zulu, it was a great movie (like with the two Star Wars movies you mentioned) but for anyone watching for the first time, would recommend watching them that way round.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks Dave, I have seen neither. So it’s good to hear of this “better watching order”. Especially since IRO agrees with you. Duly noted, once I get to watching them!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. It gets a 10 from me mate. A classic. Yes it has its flaws but any film you can watch time and time again has to be faultless. Pretty sure I’ve got a two disc anniversary version on DVD with the second being an excellent documentary made at the time. It might be worth checking to see if it’s on YouTube. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Thanks to your blog, it’s on my list of movies to watch this Summer. I don’t know how much I’ll understand if it uses a lot British terms and my military knowledge is pretty sad about anything after they invented bows (hence I might be rooting for the Zulus)! I do enjoy the old movie or two. I liked Gandhi and Patton, and am generally fascinated by historic pieces. So it’s definitely worth it for me to check out! 😀

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Well you know what camp that I’m in as far as whether I’ve seen or knew anything about the Zulus before you started this project, mate! I appreciated your thoughts on both movies as well as the interview segment with your Dad. It was nice of him to drop in! I wouldn’t have guessed you lived in England either. You seem as Australian as Australia gets to me anyway! 😀

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Enjoyed this post! 🙂 I like both films! I wonder if their success is more down to what they essentially portray to their target audiences; Zulu portrays a small band of plucky Brits (essentially) defending themselves against a horde of savage warriors, so everybody roots for the (apparent) underdog; Zulu Dawn presents the army of a white colonial power (and there were a few of them) bullying someone but getting its comeuppance, so many people will think that’s a view maybe best swept under the carpet and a lesson best not learned from history! I’ve read enough about colonial wars to know that various overseas empires seem to have been mostly fuelled by greed! I’ll shut up now!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Confession time, cards on the table and all that; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen all of Zulu, start to finish. I know, madness right? It’s been years since I last watched it, and I know I caught parts of it when mates were watching it at uni but if you pressed me I couldn’t swear to having seen it right through in one go. Well worth a rewatch anyway, especially whilst you’re working on this project. Zulu Dawn I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen, will try to give it a spin too.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for your honesty but we can no longer be friends.

      If you want to win back my favour you can find Zulu on YouTube.

      Big Waz (my mate) has never seen Ricky so he’s barely hanging on in the friendship department with me.


      Liked by 3 people

      1. Good grief – Waz hasn’t seen Rocky*? Sort your life out Waz!

        *I’m presuming that’s autocorrect playing silly buggers and Waz hasn’t seen the film Rocky, rather than that he hasn’t seen my old mate Ricky (although Ricky is certainly a memorable guy and well worth seeing if the chance arises).

        As for Zulu I’d spotted it was on youtube, even planned to watch it this weekend but alas life happened and I never got around to it. Next weekend I should have time though, and then I’ll be ready to take up the baton if Waz lets the side down again and you need to replace him in a hurry.

        Liked by 2 people

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