DIRECTOR: Cy Endfield
May Contain Spoilers!
Zulu: One of the greatest war films of all time. Period:
Following the true story, with reasonable accuracy, of a small contingent of British soldiers based at a Swedish mission in the heart of Zulu territory during 1879, Zulu one of the purest demonstrations of British grace under fire that there ever was. With the entire British column decimated, a plot dealt with in this film’s prequel, Zulu Dawn (1979) it is left to this group of mis-match troops, many of which were hospitalised, to defend not only the last British outpost, but their own lives from the onslaught of the 4,000 strong Zulu army marching against them.
There is the build up, the preparations and then they arrive. But after the first hour of build up, their arrival has been much-anticipated and they certainly live up their hype. What follows is a methodical display of both Zulu and British tactics, with a much grater force being repelled and repelled by a minuet one at that. It’s hard to image a war film which doesn’t do this now, but it is thanks to Zulu that we have films in which the true professional nature of soldering is well represented, where films take their time to establish the details of the events and to create a neat and subtle arch in which characters and the historical events can be mashed together to become something more theatrical. Nothing seems to be forced here, everything seems to fit into place, not least the respect for both sides.
This is summed up in the closing act in which the Zulu’s accept defeat and withdraw but not before honouring their counterpart’s bravery. The Zulu’s never come across as the bad guys yet we are clearly on side with the British, which is the result of skillful screenwriting and direction, let alone John Barry’s underrated score, which I would count as one of his very best.
Africa is the star of this too, but this can be said of any film set there at that time, as the Travelogue was big at the time and Africa was the place to go, virtually at least, but all the pieces fit together to create a flawless film and a timeless classic, let alone a war movie to which ALL other war movies need to be judged. The Zulu model has been well used since with nods as far into deep space as Starship Troopers (1997) and closer to home with my favourite war film, Black Hawk Down (2001). I’m sure that there is no doubt that Ridley Scott had seen Zulu once or twice in his life before making his also, underrated masterpiece…
An unreserved classic.