On the January 22nd 1879 the British Army suffered one of its worst defeats when Zulu forces massacred 1,500 of its troops at Isandlhwana.
A short time after the main battle a Zulu force numbering in excess of 4000 warriors advanced on a British hospital and supply dump guarded by 139 Welsh infantrymen.
The film concentrates on this bloody 12 hour battle during which the British force, under their commander from the Royal Engineers who happened to be in the area building a bridge and happened to be senior to the infantry officer, won 11 Victoria Crosses.
While taking some liberties with history the film follows reality fairly closely, including matching exactly the identities of the VC winners.
Based on a true Story
Stanley Baker ... Lt. John Chard
Jack Hawkins ... Rev. Otto Witt
Ulla Jacobsson ... Margareta Witt
James Booth ... Pte. Henry Hook
Michael Caine ... Lt. Gonville Bromhead
Nigel Green ... Colour Sgt. Frank Bourne
Ivor Emmanuel ... Pte. Owen
Paul Daneman ... Sgt. Robert Maxfield
Director: Cy Endfield
DivX3 / MP3
SiRiUs sHaRe Personal Note: I grew up in Natal and spent many wonderful summer holidays on the site of this film. The site was chosen for its dramatic backdrop (The mountains known as 'The Amphitheatre' and 'Sleeping Beauty' - see if you can see which they are!) and is not the actual Rorke's Drift which lies about 100km or so to the east.
The site is mostly a nature reserve now and is part of the 'Royal Natal National Park'. The remaining parts are still grazing farmland, so not too much has changed over the last 40 odd years since this was filmed.
This film is beautifully shot and scripted, and the the John Barry musical score keeps the battle scenes moving well. It seems to makes the sometimes long periods of heavy fighting pass by quicker. Barry took authentic Zulu songs and chants and added the dramatic score around them to make an original and haunting theme which still ranks as one of his greatest film score offerings.
Stanley Baker is fantastic as Lt. Chard, the Royal Engineer who is able to use his skill in successfully fortifying the little hospital outpost against the onslaught of the foe.
Micheal Caine plays Lt. Bromhead the professional line soldier and upper class officer who after a little whining and grumbling accepts his position of second in command and fights valiantly in the battle. It was this film that propelled Caine to international stardom, so powerful was his performance.
Other noted cast members include James Booth as an excellent but inaccurate Hook, and Nigel Green as Colour-Sergeant Frank Bourne the typical Victorian Sergeant-major complete with side whiskers and moustache.
The Great Jack Hawkins who did not like the character he played or his work on the film, portrayed Otto Witt, the pacifist missionary with a drink problem and again it is another performance worthy of an award. It was upsetting however to hear in his voice, his wonderfully clipped speaking voice, the early effects of the throat cancer which had by this time plagued him for three years and which was eventually to lead to his death.
Also special mention to Richard Burton, who narrated the whole show. He truly had one of the best dramatic voices in the world and speaks his lines beautifully.
It was also good to see the Zulu's portrayed with dignity and honour rather than just mere savages with bones through their noses. They were a brave and strong opponent that day and they are deserving of tribute as much as the British.
The basis of this film is taken from historical fact, although certain characters and events have either been altered, erased or just plain fabricated for dramatic purposes. I hope that should any producers in the future be foolish enough to attempt a remake of this classic epic, they will put historical accuracy first and Hollywood sensationalism second if at all.
Enough has been said by others regarding the blatant slander of Private Henry Hook, so I will not elaborate on it, save that it was a gross slur on the bravest of men. I hope should the film ever be remade his honour will be restored and his gallant deeds on that day be portrayed accurately.
To quash further popular myths none of the film is shot on the exact spot at which the battle took place, (the real Rorke's Drift was in fact about 60 miles from the location shoot.)
The regiment in question did not become the South Wales Borderers until two years after the battle and was at the time a Warwickshire Regiment. They were however based in Brecon which is where the Welsh connection was born and would explain why there was a higher amount of Welsh nationals attached to it.
Despite this the regiment consisted mainly of Englishmen and only about 12 percent were in fact from Wales. With these demographics being how they are I can assure you, "Men of Harlech" would not have been sung at Rorke's Drift, (at least not without the culprit being bayoneted by an Englishman with ear-ache.)
Lt. Chard himself was an Englishman having been born in Plymouth into an established and respected Somerset family. This being the case, I find it funny that although Stanley Baker never refers to Chard as a Welshman, he none the less seems to revel in promoting Welsh pride at ever opportunity. Of the eleven V.C's won in the battle, only three of them were awarded to Welshman so why the big Welsh message Boyo?
Also the final salute made by the Zulu's did not occur. When they re-appeared on the hill they returned with the sole intention of finishing off the gallant soldiers at the outpost, but decided against it when they noticed a sizable relief column approaching Rorke's Drift from the south.
Finally, a few people have made references to Colour-Sergeant Frank Bourne, wondering whether or not he really existed and if so why he was never awarded the V.C. for his conduct on the day. Yes, he really existed and yes, he did fight at Rorke's Drift. He was in fact recommended for a Victoria Cross, but told the powers that be that he would rather have a promotion instead. This he was given along with a D.C.M and an O.B.E. He was the last surviving veteran of Rorke's Drift when he died on V.E. Day 8th May 1945 aged 91 and with a rank of Lt. Col.
For more historic information about The Battle of Rorke's Drift and it's combatants, I recommend you visit www.rorkesdriftvc.com.
* This was Michael Caine's first major film role. He watched the rushes, but was so nervous that he was sick, and never watched rushes again.
* Michael Caine visited the officers' mess of the Scots Guards at Pirbright to perfect his accent.
* Stanley Baker had no difficulty raising finance because producer Joseph E. Levine said he would back any project Baker wanted to do. Baker said there was a project he was planning. Levine asked what it was called and Baker replied, "Zulu". Levine said, "Zulu! I like that title. I will back you". Baker told this in a radio interview in England, and this account is confirmed by his widow in one of the "extras" on the Paramount DVD of the film.
* Because the Zulus who were playing the extras in the film had never seen a movie, Stanley Baker held an outdoor screening of a Gene Autry movie for them so they would have an idea of what movies were all about.
* The opening and closing narration is read by Richard Burton.
* Because the film was shot in South Africa, the cast and crew were lectured on the need to refrain from fraternizing with the topless tribal dancers since the penalty for interracial sex in the country at the time was seven years hard labor.
* Jack Hawkins was upset at the way his character (Rev. Witt) was shown on film, and refused to attend the opening.
* In the real battle for Rorke's Drift on which this film was based, only 17 British soldiers were actually killed.
* According to a recent book Stanley Baker intended the role of Private Hitch to be played by "the actor from "That Was the Week That Was" (1964) whose surname begins with a K". He was alluding to Roy Kinnear without realizing that the series also starred David Kernan. When Kernan turned up on the set Baker realized his mistake but hired him anyway.
* Because of the apartheid laws in South Africa at the time, none of the actors who portrayed the Zulu warriors were allowed to attend the premiere of the movie.
* Because of the strict apartheid laws enforced in South Africa at the time, the Zulu extras could not be paid equivalent rates to their white counterparts. To get around this, director Cy Endfield gifted all of the animals bought for this film (particularly cows) to the tribes - a gift far more valuable to them than the money that had been denied them.
* The 700+ Zulu extras were largely descendants of the actual warriors who took part in the battle, among them the then chief of the Zulu Nation, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, taking the role of his predecessor, Cetawayo.
* Michael Caine originally auditioned for the part of Private Henry Hook, but was beaten to it by James Booth.
* James Booth's character, Private Henry Hook, was required to be in the field hospital which were mostly interior shots. Therefore he did not travel with the cast and crew to South Africa for the filming.
* During the first combat scenes, the powder charge is significant. In the later battle scenes, the rifles buck less because the powder charge is less. This was because at close range, even blanks were still dangerous.
* The film was shot in the Royal Natal National Park, which is about 90 miles southwest of Rorke's Drift (the Amphitheater mountain forms a dramatic backdrop in the movie). The area surrounding the actual Rorke's Drift is nowhere near as mountainous as in the film.
* Stanley Baker owned John Chard's Victoria Cross (and other medals) from 1972 until his death in 1976. Originally thought to be what is known as a "cast copy", the Victoria Cross was later proven, after a series of tests, to be the original. Unfortunately, Baker died never knowing he had the real VC.
* Joe Powell's role was much bigger but he became ill during the period when his scenes were to be shot.
* The then Minister of Native Affairs banned the film for screenings to black South Africans as "it might incite them to rise up in revolt".
* Director Cy Endfield wanted a camera crane that was lightweight when disassembled so that it could be packed and transported through the African bush. Ken Eddy designed the first Filmair Giraffe camera crane for the job and in so doing began the world's best known camera crane company. This key piece of film gear is still used in the movie industry.
* In real life, Pvt. Henry Hook (played by James Booth) was nothing like the hard-drinking, insubordinate, malingering malcontent portrayed in this film. In fact, Hook was never a discipline problem and was known among his fellow soldiers as somewhat of a prude.
* The rifles in the film are Martini-Henry single-shots in .450/577 caliber. The weapons seen in the film are period-correct short lever versions (the design was modified in the 1880s with a longer lever to aid extraction.
* In real life, Lt. Bromhead, played by Michael Caine as an arrogant "upper class twit", was extremely deaf. It was much more for this reason -- rather than the few months' precedence in gaining his commission which Chard (Stanley Baker) claims in the movie -- that Bromhead agreed to relinquish command. Chard's precedence, historically, was closer to three years than to the much more dramatic matter of months.