Cast & Crew
At the infamous 1879 Battle of Islandlhwana, some 1,500 British soldiers were outnumbered many times over and killed by Zulu warriors, led by legendary chief Cetshwayo.
Muntu Ben Louis Ndebele
John F Hume
Jon Jon Lambon
Barry Saint Claire
Dennis Van Der Merwe
Karl Heinz Vogelmann
Zulu is a British production made when traditional notions of queen and country still lingered and it was possible to believe that the sun wouldn't entirely set on Britain's global empire; accordingly, the 1964 film depicts a valiant battle in which steadfast British forces ultimately prevail over African warriors with inferior arms and less resolute spirits. Zulu Dawn is a coproduction made with American, South African, and Dutch resources at a time when the British Empire was virtually kaput; in this 1979 picture the Brits wage a losing fight that brings nothing but defeat, destruction, and death. While both films are smartly crafted and vigorously acted, Zulu Dawn is the more historically accurate and dramatically daring of the two.
Based on the bloody Battle of Isandlwana in 1879, the events of Zulu Dawn unfold in Natal, a province of British South Africa where the British used conflict between indigenous Zulus and land-grabbing Boers as an excuse to begin the Anglo-Zulu War, designed to weaken the Zulus' military and economic capabilities. Two of the British aristocrats who run Natal from their Cape Colony headquarters, Lord Chelmsford and Sir Henry Bartle Frere, send a message to the Zulu leader Cetshwayo commanding him to disband his army and dissolve his empire. Cetshwayo's rejection of the demand gives Bartle Frere cover to invade Zululand with troops led by Chelmsford, who foresees a resounding victory. "Well, gentlemen," he smugly says to his officers when the first Zulu falls, "first blood to us, and a rousing good report in the newspapers to satisfy the politicians, eh?"
Chelmsford's optimism couldn't be more mistaken, and his own actions are largely to blame. One of his most wrongheaded decisions - even a journalist observing the campaign advises against it - is to break a basic rule of battle and prematurely split his forces, sending his most powerful units toward the Zulu capital, Ulundi, because he believes a false report that the Zulu regiments, called impis, have their main staging area there. This overextends the supply line for ammunition, making bullets increasingly scarce, and thins the British ranks that must face the actual Zulu attack when it occurs.
Puzzled by his failure to find Zulus preparing their charge, Chelmsford makes the situation even worse by setting up camp near Mount Isandlwana but neglecting to circle the wagons and dig trenches for his troops. Before long the Zulus launch a full-scale assault on the main camp, helped by information from a couple of prisoners who escape their British captors, make their way to the Zulu command, and report what they've overheard. British weaponry is modern and spectacular, but it can't overcome the sheer numbers, ferocity, and tenacity of the Zulu army, which emerges victorious after fighting that grows steadily more desperate on the British side and steadily more vicious on both sides.
A chief creative force behind both Zulu Dawn and Zulu was Cy Endfield, an American writer and director who made his first feature in 1946. He drew attention in 1950 for two excellent, tough-minded noirs - The Underworld Story and The Sound of Fury, also known as Try and Get Me! - and relocated to England in 1951 when his left-wing politics put him on the Hollywood blacklist. Endfield directed and co-wrote Zulu, leading a first-rate cast with skill and assurance. By the time of Zulu Dawn he was no longer directing movies, so Douglas Hickox directed it from a screenplay co-written by Endfield, who gets solo credit for the original story and scenario.
Endfield was keenly interested in situations of panic and crisis, and also in the ways a group or crowd can be driven by emotions and manipulated by forceful personalities and authorities. That theme is at the center of Zulu Dawn, where soldiers allow themselves to be led to their doom by superiors who are essentially in the dark about what's going on. Also reflected in Zulu Dawn is Endfield's egalitarian philosophy. Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, a perceptive observer of Endfield's work, calls Zulu a "celebration of courage and nobility on both sides of the conflict," and while I think that statement goes too far - the ending of Zulu favors the British so heavily that even the Zulus celebrate their enemy's righteous persistence and resolve - it fully applies to Zulu Dawn, which comes to a darker and more uncompromising conclusion.
Zulu Dawn was an uncommonly serious project for Hickox, who usually made ephemeral entertainments like the crime drama Sitting Target (1972) and the droll horror movie Theatre of Blood (1973). He met the challenge of Zulu Dawn with colors flying as high as the Union flag in the film's early scenes. Hickox keeps the action moving briskly, injects wry humor into scenes parodying the upper-crust manners of officers in the field, and elicits lively performances throughout.
Standouts in the first-rate cast include Burt Lancaster as Colonel Durnford, the sympathetic leader of the African allies fighting on the British side; Denholm Elliott as Colonel Pulleine, out of his depth as the default commander of the Isandlwana camp; Peter O'Toole as Lord Chelmsford, the ambitious aristocrat who aims to pulverize the Zulus but instead brings disaster on his own troops; and Simon Ward as Lieutenant William Vereker, who starts out with high spirits that vanish when he sees the horrors of war. John Mills shows up briefly but memorably as Bartle Frere, who sets the catastrophe in motion, and Bob Hoskins's fans will enjoy seeing him as a hardnosed sergeant-major. Simon Sabela gives Cetshwayo a full measure of strength and dignity.
Although it takes place more than a hundred years ago, Zulu Dawn speaks articulately to issues of the twentieth century, as when Bartle Frere anticipates the phraseology of Nazi genocide by referring to "the final solution of the Zulu problem," and to issues of our own century, showing how the torture and humiliation of prisoners can rebound on the people who inflict it. All told, Zulu Dawn is an engaging action epic with unusually high degrees of historical savvy and humanitarian concern.
Director: Douglas Hickox
Producer: Nate Kohn
Screenplay: Cy Endfield, Anthony Storey; original story and scenario by Cy Endfield
Cinematographer: Ousama Rawi
Film Editing: Malcolm Cooke
Art Direction: Peter Williams
Music: Elmer Bernstein
With: Burt Lancaster (Colonel Durnford), Simon Ward (Lieutenant William Vereker), Denholm Elliott (Colonel Pulleine), Peter Vaughan (Quartermaster Bloomfield), John Mills (Sir Henry Bartle Frere), James Faulkner (Lieutenant Melvill), Christopher Cazenove (Lieutenant Coghill), Bob Hoskins (Colour Sergeant-Major Williams), Peter O'Toole (Lord Chelmsford), Simon Sabela (King Cetshwayo), Nigel Davenport (Colonel Hamilton-Brown), Michael Jayston (Colonel Crealock), Ronald Pickup (Lieutenant Harford)
by David Sterritt
Sir John Mills (1908-2005)
Born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills in Norfolk, England on February 22, 1908. His father was a headmaster of a village school in Suffolk, where Mills was raised. After secondary school, he worked as a clerk in a corn merchant's office while acting in amateur dramatic societies. Ever ambitious, he relocated to London in 1928 to find more work as an actor.
He took tap-dancing lessons and made his stage debut as a chorus boy in The Five O'Clock Girl at the London Hippodrome in 1929. Later that year, he joined an acting troupe that toured India and the Far East with a repertory of modern plays, musical comedies and Shakespeare. It was during this tour when he scored his big break - he was spotted by Noel Coward while in Singapore and promptly taken under the playwright's wing when he returned to London in 1931.
On his return, he starred on the West End (London's Broadway), in Coward's Cavalcade and earned the lead in a production of Charley's Aunt. His song and dance talents came in handy for his film debut, an early British musical-comedy The Midshipmaid (1932). His biggest hits over the next few years would all fall into the genre of light comic-musicals: Britannia of Billingsgate (1933), Royal Cavalcade (1935), and Four Dark Hours(1937). He scored a his first big part as Robert Donat's student in the MGM backed production Mills went on to play Robert Donat's Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). He developed some more heft to his acting credentials that same year when he made his debut at the celebrated Old Vic Theatre as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
He served briefly in the Navy, 1940-41, during World War II before receiving a medical discharge. When Mills returned to the screen, he began a great turn as the atypical sturdy, dignified Englishman ("English without tears" went the popular phrase of the day). He starred as a stalwart lead in a amazing string of hit films: In Which We Serve (1942), We Dive at Dawn (1943), This Happy Breed (1944), The Way to the Stars (1945), and Waterloo Road (1945). Although Mills was ever dependable, they did not show his breakout talents until he starred as Pip in David Lean's gorgeous adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (1946). As the young orphan who morphs into a man of wealth and stature, Mills showed the depth as an actor by offering a finely modulated performance.
By the late '40s, Mills was a bona fide star of British films, and over the next decade the strong roles kept coming: as the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (1948); Bassett, the handy man who tries to help a troubled child (the brilliant John Howard Davies) of greedy, neglectful parents in the superb domestic drama The Rocking Horse Winner (1950); an overprotective father who gets trapped in a murder yarn in Mr. Denning Drives North (1952); a fine Willie Mossop in David Lean's Hobson's Choice (1954); an impressive "against-type" performance as a Russian peasant in War and Peace (1956); a sympathetic police inspector coaxing the trust of a juvenile (his daughter Hayley) who knows the facts of a murder case in the underappreciated Tiger Bay (1959); a rowdy Australian sheep shearer in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (also 1959); and arguably his finest performance - a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for a hard-as-nails army colonel who fears the loss of control over his regiment in Tunes of Glory (1960).
The mid-60s saw an isolated effort as a film director: Gypsy Girl (which starred his other daughter Juliet - who would later find fame on US television in Nanny and the Professor (1970-72); and showed the development of Mills into a charming character actor: the working-class patriarch in the modest comedy The Family Way (starring Hayley as his daughter); and a terrific comic bit as a murderous Lord who tries to kill off his kin for the family inheritance in Bryan Forbes The Wrong Box (all 1966).
By the '70s, his film work slowed considerably, but he was always worth watching: an Oscar winning performance as a mute villager in David Lean¿s study of the Irish troubles Ryan's Daughter (1970); as the influential General Herbert Kitchener Young Winston (1972); and as a driven oil driller in Oklahoma Crude (1973). With the exception of a small role in Sir Richard Attenborough's Ghandi (1982 - where he was credited as Sir John Mills after his knighthood in 1976), and a regrettable cameo in the deplorable Madonna comedy Who's That Girl (1987).
Very little was seen of Mills until recent years, where the most memorable of his appearances included: Old Norway in Hamlet (1996); as the stern chairman opposite Rowan Atkinson in the hit comedy Bean (1997); and - in a daring final role for his proud career - a nonagenarian partygoing cocaine user in Stephen Fry's bawdy social satire Bright Young Things (2003)! Mills is survived by his wife of 64 years, the novelist and playwright Mary Hayley Bell; his daughters, Juliet and Hayley; son, John; and several grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Sir John Mills (1908-2005)
I bring greetings from your friends the British and from the great Lord Chelmsford.- Zulu messenger
And what do your masters say?- Ceteseyo
They are angry and send these demands. They say that you rule in old ways that are wrong; that you kill your people without trial. The Great White Queen herself cannot kill her lowliest subject, though she rules forty lands, each greater than all of Zululand.- Zulu messenger
All this way to be shot by a bloody bullet from Birmingham.- Corporal Storey
Then a bottle of good claret for each man in the mess will be charged to your account.- Lt. Raw
If that is too expensive, then you can always send the bill to your father in the House of Lords. No offense, Vereker.- Lt. Coghill
None taken, Coghill.- Lt. Vereker
Hello, Frederick.- Lt. William Vereker
Hello, William. I saw your father before I left England. He told me you had taken to farming near Zululand.- General Lord Chelmsford
Yes. It was either come here or join the Zulu.- Lt. Vereker
Vereker, you didn't really have to choose between your own country and the Zulu, did you?- Lt. Coghill
Yes, and a damn close thing it was too.- Lt. Vereker
Lord Chelmsford assures us that there is no way the Zulu can get around us without our knowing.- Col. Pulleen
Zulu generals have a nasty habit of doing the unexpected. It might be wise to picket the hills.- Col. Durnford
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1979
Released in United States on Video September 27, 2005
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1979
Released in United States on Video September 27, 2005