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In 1879 South Africa, the administrators of the British Cape Colony have designs to eliminate the Zulus as a hindrance to their colonial economy. To that end, the British present King Cetshwayo with an impossible ultimatum to provoke a war they are sure they can win easily with their rifles and artillery against native 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. However, in the shadow of a hill called Isandlwana, the overconfident British army learns to its sorrow just how badly they have underestimated the tactical skill and might of the Zulu nation. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (email@example.com)
Meticulous recreation of a bloody clash between British and Zulu forces in 1879 South-Africa.
In fact, a prequel to 'Zulu' (1964) directed by Cy Endfield who was also a major collaborator on ZD. As 'Zulu' is about the battle of O'rourke's drift, one of the most celebrated victories in British military history, ZD deals with one of the biggest defeats of the British army by an indigenous force. It happened just a few days before the events in 'Zulu'.
ZD is sheer heaven for history buffs : everything is recreated into the tiniest detail : the uniforms, entirely filmed on location in South-Africa Natal province , the famous Martini Henry rifles, even including some kind of prehistoric rocket launchers, so no cost or effort were spared to recreate the conditions of the battle.
The Brits are represented by the cream of English actorsgild : Peter O'Toole as the too self-confident general, Simon Ward as the green lieutenant, Bob Hoskins (just before his breakthrough role in "the Long Good Friday") as a hardasnails sergeant and Denholm Elliot as one of the ignorant troop commanders.
Also a large Boer party ( settlers mostly from Holland as 'Boer' is the Dutch word for farmer) took part in the battle, lead here by none other then Burt Lancaster ! In 1879 the Boers still sided with The British against the Zulus. Twenty years later, after having defeated the Zulus, the Brits and Boers turned against each other and became involved in a struggle for the diamond-rich Natal province. A very bloody three-year war followed, simply known as 'the Boer war', where the British army was nearly defeated by the much smaller number of unprofessional Boers soldiers.
Director Douglas Hickox ( Entertaining Mr Sloane, Sitting Target, Sky Devils,etc..)does an excellent job and turns in a classic-style, immaculate and spectacular epic. Sadly ZD was a big flop at the box-office and marked the end of the old-style colonial epics, up until the recent remake of 'The Four Feathers'.
It also marked the end of the career of director Hickox in feature-length movies and he was forced to work for TV, condemned to churning out superior 'schmalzy' series as 'Mistral's Daughter', 'Sins', etc...
But as historical epics go, they do not come any better than this. I rate it 8/10.
If you like this try also 'Khartoum' (1966).
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