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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)
Sir John Hurt was cast, but had to be replaced after South African authorities confused him with American actor John Heard, who had been arrested in an anti-Apartheid march. They refused to give Hurt a visa. See more »
Burt Lancaster plays Col. Anthony Durnford with a strong Irish accent. In reality, Durnford came from an Anglo-Irish family from the Ascendancy and would not have spoken with such an accent, he would have sounded like an upper class Englishman. See more »
Sir Henry Bartle Frere:
[proofreading aloud the ultimatum he has just drafted]
Cetshwayo's Zulu army to disband and the warriors permitted to return to their homes.
See more »
Opening credits prologue: One hundred years ago the British Colony of Natal in Southern Africa was surrounded by a vast and independent Zulu Kingdom.
In 1879, a battle took place that was forever to alter the course of Colonial history: ISANDHLWANA See more »
one of the last great epic war films - also the only good "Prequel" in history
Not perfect, but awesome in its spectacle and casting, ZULU DAWN makes a fine companion piece to it's earlier sequel, ZULU.
DAWN starts fairly slowly with lots of lengthy contrasting scenes in Zululand and Natal, showing a big rift between the comfortable life of the British Colonials in Natal vs. the primitive barbarism of the Zulus. It's only inevitable that conflict later comes in one way or another and boy does it ever! The final battle scene consumes roughly the last 30 minutes of the movie and it's very exciting to see roughly 1200 British soldiers swiftly get overrun by a 30,000 strong army of Zulu warriors armed with spears. The red coats mow down wave after wave of Zulus but they just keep coming. The best scenes show the Zulu wave murdering wounded soldiers lying in their beds and then even running through the poor mess cooks! Then comes one of the best shots in any epic film (reminding me of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and BATTLE OF NERETVA) with one excellent long shot where the entire background shows the Zulus swarming through the British tents while in the foreground a Zulu stabs and British soldier to death.
The main disappointment here is that Peter O'Toole is a bit underused and in his rather 2-dimensional presentation of Lord Chelmsford as an uptight snob really doesn't have the complexity or larger than life impact that one would usually expect from him. The rest of the cast comes off great though, especially Denholm Elliot, Peter Vaughan, Bob Hoskins, and especially Simon Ward. The musical score is very good as well, though at times possibly a little distracting and oppressive.
Hats off to the cinematographer and location managers for this one - I believe ZULU DAWN was shot at the actual South African locations near the real battle (though Isandlwana hill was too modernized and built up to use for the film), so the authenticity of this film shall probably go unequaled into history. I heartily recommend this film to any fan of large-scale war and action films - just hang in there for the climax as it's one of the finest in all filmdom.
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