Zululand, South Africa, 1879. The British are fighting the Zulus and one of their columns has just been wiped out at Isandlwana. The Zulus next fix their sights on the small British outpost at Rorke's Drift. At the outpost are one hundred fifty British troops under the command of Lieutenants Bromhead and Chard. In the next few days, these one hundred fifty troops will fight about four thousand Zulus in one of the most courageous battles in history.Written by
Men of Harlech
Performed by soldiers See more »
A tribute to human courage.
Zulu is the true story of the battle of Rourke's Drift between the British and Zulu nations in 1879. Both nations were aggressive, expansionist peoples. The British had pursued trade throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and suddenly found themselves in possession of an empire encompassing one quarter of the world. The Zulus, under the warrior-king Shaka Zulu, had become a society totally devoted to warfare and, with the possible exception of the Spartans over two thousand years before them, the most fearless soldiers the world had ever seen. It is important not to succumb to political correctness here, the Zulus had ruthlessly oppressed other nations in black Africa and caused mass migrations of people, the effects of which are felt to this day. The British meanwhile, had provoked a confrontation with them and suffered a defeat at Isandlwana where modern weapons has proved insufficient against overwhelming numbers of incredibly brave and disciplined warriors. The day after the battle the small British garrison at Rourke's Drift seemed doomed. Just over 100 men plus sick men in the hospital faced thousands of Zulus eager for their share of the glory which their brothers had won at Isandlwana.
The nature of the British Army at this time was not promising. Before Waterloo in 1815 the Duke of Wellington had described them as "the scum of the earth" - rogues, ne'er-do-wells, criminals, drunkards, ladanum fiends, debtors fresh from prison, even lunatics. In 1879 they were not much different. They were incredibly badly paid, their conditions of service were atrocious, they were despised by the civilians, led by officers who often owed their position to aristocratic privilege and money. Sometimes they were booed in the street and refused access to pubs and music halls such was their lowly status. And yet, and yet... they had faced and defeated some of the most fearsome warriors on Earth. The Pathans, Burmese, Afghans, Sudanese "Fuzzy-Wuzzies" as well as Napoleon's invincible Imperial Guard. If they survived the bloody colonial wars they could expect an early death in the work-house, unappreciated by the people whose incomes they had guarded. If you are interested in the Victorian soldiers see Kipling's poems (especially "Tommy Atkins") or read George Orwell's long essay on Kipling or "The Lion And The Unicorn".
This film salutes human beings in extremis. Though told from the British viewpoint it pays handsome tribute to the magnificent courage and honour of the Zulu warriors as well as the British soldiers wondering "what are we doing here?". The best perfomances in the film, in my opinion, are from James Booth as Private Hook, the cynical drunkard turned reluctant hero and Nigel Green as the awesome Colour-Sergeant Bourne. It portrays courage and stoicism which modern people seem to lack; heroism when all seems lost, faith in the regiment and your mates and old-fashioned manliness.
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