Movie Memories – ZULU, The Defence of Rorke’s Drift

Zulu has to be one of my favourite ever films because it was one of the first grown up films that I was ever taken to see at the cinema.  As I have explained elsewhere my Dad was fond of anything military or heroic and stories don’t come much more heroic or military than this.

These are the facts: On 22nd January 1879 the Imperial British army suffered one of its worst ever defeats when Zulu forces massacred one thousand five hundred of its troops at Isandlhwana in South Africa.  A short time after the main battle a Zulu force numbering over four thousand warriors advanced on a British hospital and supply garrison guarded by one hundred and thirty nine infantrymen at Rorke’s Drift.

The film tells the true story of the battle during which the British force gallantly defended the hospital and in doing so won eleven Victoria Crosses, which is the most ever awarded for one single engagement. The film takes a few historical liberties but it remains one of my favourites and of course I have a copy of it in my own DVD collection.

Talking about historical liberties what I find interesting is that if you buy the DVD now, Michael Caine is billed as the star but if you watch it Stanley Baker had top billing and he was the film’s producer as well, the film simply introduces Michael Caine in his first big film role.  That’s how easily history is rewritten.

I like battle films and perhaps could have chosen ‘Waterloo’ or ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ but the fact is that none of these comes close to the dramatic impact of ZULU!  Later that year dad bought the Zulu soundtrack LP for Christmas to play on our new record player. I’ve still got it but I don’t play it any more.  I’ve also got dad’s book on the Zulu wars and his favourite Royal Doulton water colour painting of the defence of Rorke’s Drift.

7 responses to “Movie Memories – ZULU, The Defence of Rorke’s Drift

  1. You are 100% correct about this film. It is tremendous. Nowadays, people seem to view it as racist because whites soldiers defeat black soldiers in battle. I think they miss the point because the film treats them as equals, one of the very first to do this, and a million miles away from John Wayne against the Indians or against the Japanese. The prequel, Zulu Dawn, is quite good, and shows just what brilliant soldiers the Zulus were.


    • I quite like Zulu Dawn, it does a good job of showing how incompetent the senior officers were.
      There is another interesting side story to Rorke’s Drift. Maybe racist? Although 11 VCs were awarded to the defenders, that given to Christian Ferdinand Schiess of the Natal Native Contingent was not awarded until a year later because the Army was not sure of his nationality. He was Swiss.


  2. Michael Caine sells – Stanley Baker somehow got left behind on the worldly stage of what gets attention instantly 🙂 Not many films made these days can match the impact Zulu had on people, that’s for sure


  3. I don’t usually go for these types of movies, but there’s something familiar about it. A real movie buff, are you, Andrew? 😀


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.