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Film / Zulu

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Private Cole: Why does it have to be us? Why us?
Colour Sergeant Bourne: Because we're here, lad. No one else. Just us.

Zulu is a classic 1964 war film set during the Anglo-Zulu War, directed by Cy Endfield and featuring Michael Caine in his breakout film role. The cast also includes Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson, Patrick Magee and James Booth. Richard Burton provides the narration for the opening and closing scenes.

Based on true events, the film is the story of a Last Stand that the defenders managed to win. The Battle of Rorke's Drift was the result of the Battle of Isandlwana, at which the British expeditionary force of 2,000 sent to crush the Zulus had been destroyed through a combination of skilled Zulu leadership of fearless legions of warriors and the incompetence of British commanders. 139 British soldiers in a farmstead, assigned there to protect the wounded (who numbered about one third of the 139) held out against 4-5,000 Zulus for 12 hours. The battle is held to this day as one of the very best defences in all history. Eleven of the soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross (the highest possible decoration for bravery), the highest number of this medal ever awarded for a single action.

It was followed fifteen years later by a prequel, Zulu Dawn, about the disastrous Battle of Isandlwana that took place earlier the same day. The film was released on the centenary of the battle. It was written by Cy Endfield and starred Burt Lancaster, Peter O'Toole, and Bob Hoskins, and is generally regarded as being better history but the inferior film. It is also much more openly critical of the Anglo-Zulu War, emphasising the fact that the British instigated the war in order to seize Zululand.


  • '70s Hair: Well... the 1870s anyway. The long sideburns on the men wouldn't look out of place a century later.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Private Henry Hook is portrayed as an obnoxious, insubordinate malingerer who fakes illness to escape duty, only to become a brave solider and a good fighter once the hospital comes under attack. There's nothing to suggest that Private Hook was anything but a good soldier throughout his career, and his family were angered and disgusted by film's portrayal of their ancestor.
  • Anachronism Stew: Due to either a lack of Martini-Henry rifles or .570 blanks, a decent chunk of the weapons wielded by British forces in the film are actually anachronistic Lee-Enfield Mk. Is (introduced in 1895) with the telltale magazine removed. In a similar vein, the revolvers used by the officers are Webley Mk. VIs, which were introduced in 1915. This is due to a lack of functional Beaumont-Adams revolvers, as used in the actual battle.
  • And Starring: The opening cast roll ends with "And introducing Michael Caine".
  • Antagonist Title: Since the film is following the British.
  • Artistic Licence – History:
    • The 24th Regiment are identified as a Welsh regiment, but were actually predominantly English with Welsh and Irish (plus a few other nationalities) filling out the ranks. They would not be known as the South Wales Borderers until two years after the battle.
    • The portrayal of Colour Sergeant Bourne as a towering, middle-aged veteran soldier. The real Bourne was actually slightly-built and in his mid-twenties (he was, in fact, the youngest Colour Sergeant in the British Army at the time). He was even young enough to be the last survivor of the battle, dying on 9 May 1945 (appropriately enough, on the day after the war in Europe was won).
    • The Zulus didn't charge headlong at the British riflemen with nothing but spears and shields over open ground, (which is a mistake the British made at Isandlwana and one of the reasons why they lost and events of the film happened in the first place), they used rocks and broken terrain as cover until they were within a few yards of the British positions, then they charged the riflemen with their spears.
    • The real Commissary Dalton wasn't the prissy pen pusher the film shows him to be. He was actually an experienced former soldier who may well have talked Chard and Bromhead out of abandoning the position in favour of fortifying and defending it.
    • The movie makes it look like Cesthawayo's main army won the Battle of Isandlwana, then descended on Rorke's Drift. In reality the attacking Zulu force was a reserve impi who hadn't been engaged at Isandlwana, and disobeyed orders to cross into Natal and attack the British.
    • As a result, most of the Zulu firearms at Rorke's Drift were outmoded rifles and muskets purchased from arms traders, rather than Martini-Henrys taken from the British dead at Isandlwana.
    • The portrayal of Private Hook was so offensively wrong (in real life he was a model soldier and a teetotaler) that his daughter walked out of the film premiere.
    • Otto Witt wasn't a pacifist (he helped the British soldiers plan their defence) or a drunk, and he only left so as to alert his family at his farm a little way away; he also wasn't a widower and had three children at the time, the oldest of whom was seven years old. Also contrary to the film's portrayal, Witt was not well-liked by the Zulu and had actually been banished from the Kingdom by Cesthawayo before the war broke out.
    • John Chard was actually senior to Gonville Bromhead by several years, as opposed to the several weeks mentioned in the film when the two discuss the dates of their commissions. In fact, the senior officer at Rorke's Drift had been a Major Spalding (Lord Chelmsford's quartermaster-general) but he had departed the day before to ascertain the whereabouts of reinforcements, leaving Chard as the senior officer (Spalding having ascertained that Chard was indeed senior to Bromhead prior to his departure).
    • Averted in the case of Lieutenant Bromhead, who is often described as being partially deaf. According to one of the most detailed and comprehensive books on Rorke's Drift, this seems to have been a misinterpretation of primary accounts that after the battle, Bromhead was withdrawn and quiet towards officers attached to reinforcements; these are symptoms that could just as easily be the result of PTSD (which didn't have a name in the 1870s) than deafness. That said, other sources indicate that he did have hearing problems but this did not affect his ability to command men. The line about his father having fought at Waterloo and his great-grandfather having fought with Wolfe at Quebec is historically accurate, for he was indeed the scion of a notable military family.
    • While the duelling war chants/songs makes for good film, it would be wholly inaccurate. Both the British and the Zulus took army discipline quite seriously during battle.
  • Bad Vibrations: "Damn funny. It ... it's like a train in the distance."
  • Bash Brothers: Chard and Bromhead begin the film unable to stand each other, but by the end of it, they have proven themselves quite a formidable duo, and form a mutual respect.
  • Battle Chant: The battle chants of the Zulu warriors (which also include shield bashing) before the final battle are notorious; perhaps the full-throated rendition of the song "Men of Harlech" (made in response to the Zulu chants) by the Welsh soldiers could fit as well.
  • Becoming the Mask: During the "Men of Harlech" scene you see dozens of weary demoralized soldiers who enlisted because no one else was poor enough for the job, converting themselves into the Proud Warrior Race Guys that they were singing of. If you look closely at the Zulus you can see how many are obviously youngsters out for the first time. They are becoming the mask too.
  • Bloodless Carnage: As a practical matter, 1960s special effects wouldn't have been up to the challenge of faking hundreds of bayonettings and large-caliber bullet wounds on bare-chested Zulu extras, so there is no blood squibs shown from this. However the spearheads and bayonets do have blood on them, and the occasional bloody smear or wound is seen on the soldiers.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: While our sympathies are with the protagonists in Rorke's Drift who are obviously trying to avoid being slaughtered, at the same time the film deliberately avoids vilifying the Zulu forces. They're fighting back against the Boers and the British Empire trying to take their land, and the foot soldiers are following their leaders' orders just as much as the British solders are obeying their superior officers.
  • The Cavalry: Rather cruelly subverted. A large force of cavalrymen arrive at the fort...then flee when faced with the Zulu army.
    • It should be noted that historically the cavalry actually fought in the opening stages of the battle before being forced to withdraw due to a lack of ammunition for their carbines. The cavalry unit was also mostly made up of black riders rather than white farmers as depicted in the film.
  • Combat Medic: Surgeon Reynolds, who never fights but neither does he so much as flinch at the sight of hordes of angry Zulu warriors flooding into his makeshift hospital. As stated in the closing credits, he's one of the eleven British soldiers to be awarded the Victoria Cross for the defence of Rorke's Drift.
  • Comedic Relief Characters: At first, Commissary Dalton and the company cook fit the image of traditional comic stock characters from British adventure stories. Then the trope gets very Subverted early on when Dalton is taken out by a gunshot and then the cook gets brutally speared in the back, emphasizing the latter's agonizing death. Dalton is not shown playing any further part in the rest of the film though the ending shows he survived, and it's stated in the closing that the real Dalton also received the Victoria Cross.
  • Cool Versus Awesome: British versus Zulus. Even their choirs are manly.
  • Culture Clash: Margareta Witt is put off by the Zulu mass marriage ceremony, wondering why the young women are permitting themselves to be married off to old men. Her father reminds her that many young women in Europe have arranged marriages with rich men, and perhaps the Zulu way is better, since they know they'll be getting a brave man out of it.
  • Cunning Linguist: Adendorff gives cultural advice.
  • Darkest Africa: Takes place there.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Bromhead, very much so.
      Chard: Don't worry, Miss Witt. The Army doesn't like more than one disaster in a day.
      Bromhead: Looks bad in the newspapers and upsets civilians at their breakfasts.
    • Adendorff also has his moments.
      Bromhead: We've dropped at least sixty!
      Adendorff: That leaves only 3,940.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The film starts off with missionary Otto Witt and his daughter Margareta watching a mass Zulu marriage ceremony. You'd be forgiven for thinking that they'll be more involved in the plot of the film, especially given how prominently their actors' names (Jack Hawkins and Ulla Jacobsson) are in the credits, but the attention soon switches to the soldiers at Rourke's Drift and the Witts escape from the battle (and the story) at around the halfway mark.
  • Dirty Coward: Private Henry Hook is portrayed as this until he has a change of heart and becomes a hero, saving the lives of at least a dozen patients in the hospital.
  • Dual Wielding: Schiess dual wields his bayoneted rifle and his crutch.
  • The Engineer: Lt. Chard was only a Royal Engineer assigned to Rourke's Drift to build a bridge across the Buffalo River.
  • Ensign Newbie: Bromhead, though in Real Life both he and Lieutenant Chard were inversions: they were old for their rank, having been repeatedly passed over for promotion as unlikely to amount to much. It's often claimed that Bromhead was at least partially deaf, but the latest authoritative study of the 1879 campaign suggests this was a misinterpretation of Bromhead suffering from PTSD in the immediate aftermath of the battle. At the end of the film the erstwhile confident and collected Chard reveals he's just as green as Bromhead.
  • Foreshadowing: The Boer character makes a few Deadpan Snarker remarks about the British and Boers fighting on the same side for now, united against a common enemy. But he suggests after the war with the Zulus, things may well be different. In Real Life, the first Boer War happened a little over a year later. This was a direct consequence of the hamfisted way the British prosecuted the Zulu War, followed by a botched peace settlement and the British administration seeking to grab what it could after the collapse of the Zulu Empire. This alienated the Boers of the Transvaal and drove them into open revolt. And twenty years after the Zulu War...
  • Get It Over With: At the end of the film, the defenders are exhausted and mostly wounded, and the Zulu mass on the opposing hill and begin a chant. The British officer in charge shouts for the "bastards" to just attack, why are they taunting them? The Boer guide then begins to crack a smile, and goes to sit down next to him and tells him it's not a taunt, it's a salute. And everyone breaks down laughing with relief.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The first hint of the approach of the Zulu forces is the sound of them beating on their shields; Bromhead, unnerved for the first time in the film, says it sounds like an oncoming train. The Zulu continue to do it several more times as psychological warfare, terrifying the soldiers of the outpost.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The film's version of King Cetshwayo is shown as having a good relationship with Otto Witt to the point of having one of his men executed to help them escape from Zululand after the outbreak of the war. The real Cetshwayo was hostile towards the Witts, and did not help them to escape but rather banished them after a falling-out.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Henry Hook wasn't the cowardly drunk the film portrayed him as, but a model soldier. His daughter walked out of the premiere when she saw how her father was being portrayed. Downplayed as the film does portray him performing bravely when the hour comes and is awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism, but nevertheless he is still portrayed as initially being a malingerer who's in the hospital because he's faking an injury to get out of fighting, when in reality he was only in the hospital because he'd been ordered there during the battle to protect the wounded. The real Hook was also The Teetotaler rather than being a drunk.
    • The film's version of King Cetshwayo is implied to have directly ordered the attack on the Rorke's Drift missionary station and hospital, when in real life he specifically ordered his men not to attack Rorke's Drift but was ignored.
    • The Natal cavalry unit that appears in the film is portrayed as flatly refusing Chard's pleas for help defending Rorke's Drift and withdrawing before the Zulus even arrive. In real life the Natal cavalry who arrived at Rorke's Drift certainly did not refuse to help, participating in the opening stages of the battle and only withdrawing because they ran out of ammunition. As a side note, most of them were black in reality but have undergone a Race Lift to being white Boers in the film.
  • I Can Still Fight!: Several characters, notably Schiess (who at one point swings his crutch at an attacking Zulu), display this more than once.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: What the British and the Zulus do to each other with spears and bayonets whenever the Zulus' Zerg Rush manages to get through the British's dakka.
  • Impromptu Fortress: The film focuses on a small company's worth of British soldiers turn a modest Swedish mission house-turned-military hospital into a well-fortified outpost that successfully faced off against an assault of approximately 4000 Zulu warriors.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bromhead spends the first hour or so of the film being a snobby, entitled prick to Chard, giving him backhanded advice and willfully acting as unhelpful as possible. When the shared reality of their situation finally slaps him in the face, he proves himself a courageous, capable officer who comes to acknowledge Chard's abilities, and by the end of the film, the two of them have become Bash Brothers.
  • Last Stand: Averted; they actually do win.
  • Laughing Mad: After a day and night being attacked by Zulus, Bromhead starts having a case of the giggles when it looks like they're in for Round 2, only to be told they're actually saluting the Brits.
  • Loveable Rogue: Private Hook (the real Hook was a churchgoing teetotaler, and his elderly daughters were not happy at the way the film portrayed their father). The "Private Hook" fictional character was shown performing the actions of several of the real life historical convict soldiers.
  • Minored In Ass Kicking: Bromhead, although portrayed as an aristocratic officer whose job is squarely one of command and leadership, is skilled with his pistol and at one particularly dire point trades his sword (intended as a badge of rank), for a rifle and joins the ranks of the flying platoon to repel Zulus breaching the perimeter.
  • Mirroring Factions: The "Men of Harlech" scene emphasizing the mutual warlikeness of the British and the Zulus.
  • More Dakka: The chief tactic of the British, in response to the Zulus' Zerg Rush.
  • National Geographic Nudity: At play with the Zulu wedding sequence that the Witts witness at the beginning of the film.
  • Nipple and Dimed: The first TV screenings of this film cheerfully screened it in its entirety, including the mass wedding sequence near the start where several hundred Zulu warriors dance their way into wedlock with a line of several hundred very exuberantly bouncy Zulu maidens. On the elsewhere mentioned African tribeswomen principle, this protracted scene of southern African pulchritude was always left in, regardless of the time of day of screening, throughout the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. Yet in the early 2000's, all this abruptly changed and British TV adopted a strictly censored version with all the bouncy toplessness left out. There was no clear reason given for this change of mind on the part of the broadcasters, and it was noticeable that later graphic scenes depicting mass slaughter of Zulu warriors under concentrated British riflepower were left in.
  • Oh, Crap!: The British soldiers have an appropriate reaction when they first catch sight of the enormous Zulu army facing them on the hilltops.
    • The audience gets one when we see a group of Zulu warriors lying prone. Then one stands up and points at the fort with a rifle.
  • Pet the Dog: Cesthawayo saving the Witts from being killed as war breaks out. He even has one of his own men executed to help them escape.
  • Planet of Steves: Discussed by some of the soldiers. Truth in Television as the Welsh have a rather limited range of names, so soldiers with similar names go by their serial numbers to avoid confusion. Two of the VC winners at the battle had the same surname (Jones), but different first names.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Both the British and the Zulus. More or less the whole point of the film.
  • Plunder: Zulus are shown rifling British dead at Isandlwana.
  • Punch-Clock Hero / Punch-Clock Villain: Both sides are soldiers doing their respective jobs for their respective countries. It is not even considered necessary to worry about which government is in the right from the political point of view.
  • Race Lift: The Natal cavalry who arrive at Rorke's Drift in the film are composed entirely of white Boers, whilst the equivalent figures in Real Life were mostly black Africans.
  • Rated M for Manly: Manly Zulus fighting the manly British Army in a very manly manner.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: The Zulus' dialogue and chanting isn't translated.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Colour-Sergeant Bourne coolly despatches Zulus with his bayonet, commands ranks of riflemen and quotes Psalm 46 before the battle.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Zulu leader who orders his men not to capture the Witts as they ride away from Rorke's Drift counts as this.
  • Scary Black Man: The Zulus. Very much justified by Real Life.
  • Sergeant Rock: Colour Sergeant Bourne provides the quote at the top of this trope's page; while usually stern with the men, he knows when to show a softer side (like comforting Private Cole when the latter is unnerved by Witt's drunken ranting, and later ensuring that Private Hitch seeks medical attention during the post-battle roll call), helps to ease the tension by quoting Psalm 46 just before the Zulus attack, and when they do attack, he kills several of them with his bayonet note . Corporal Allen, although not a sergeant, also qualifies note .
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: The British are shown firing controlled volleys where the Zulus advance in an individualistic way. A bit of a subversion though as a Boer tells the British in no uncertain terms that the Zulus are not a mere warband, but are themselves a regimented and disciplined force who fight with a well developed and effective tactical doctrine. Also why the Zulus are show being less organized in marching ranks, in battle they are more than capable of coordinated attack as shown when a British soldier in melee with a Zulu is killed in a backstab from behind by his nearby friend. The famous "Men of Harlech" scene might also indicate that the British and the Zulus are actually both Warriors.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • The Zulus are pragmatic enough to take rifles and ammunition off of the British dead at Isandlwana, and take them to Rorke's Drift. What started out as a battle of guns against spears turns into a fight of guns against other guns. After the initial surprise (because the defenders weren't expecting the Zulus to have looted rifles), reality sets in and it isn't as decisive — just because the Zulus know how to fire and reload rifles doesn't instantly make them expert marksmen, which takes prolonged training. One of the British officers notes that the Zulus thankfully aren't great shots (they've never had any experience firing rifles before note ). They also realize that the Zulu commander isn't going to have his few men with rifles fire at the same time that his main force charges in with spears, for fear of hitting his own men.
      • Even so, more than a few times the Zulu riflemen get lucky with their shooting and several British soldiers find this out the hard way.
    • In a much less dramatic example, when the British are preparing to meet the Zulu for the first time, Bromhead orders them to fix bayonets, which they do in precise, formation style ... and one of the men drops his.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: Played for pathos in the scene in which Colour Sergeant Bourne takes register.
    Bourne: Beckett?
    1st Soldier: He's wounded, sir.
    2nd Soldier: He's dying, sir.
    3rd Soldier: It's sad.
    Bourne: [with surprising gentleness] Keep your voices down.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: "Men of Harlech". Seconds earlier, the British garrison is getting visibly demoralised by the Zulu war chant. Then they start singing, and it's like a psychological warfare No-Sell.
  • War Is Hell: "Do you think I could stand this butcher's yard more than once?"
    • In fact, he did. The real John Chard was also there for the war's finale, the Battle of Ulundi.
  • We Have Reserves: The Zulus. There are so many that they are able to expend several simply to test the firing strength of the British.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: A couple times, and wrong on both counts.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: The Zulus are fighting for their land, whereas the English are defending a hospital.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • The Zulus appear to be massing again to wipe out the British, but it turns out they're saluting the British for their bravery before departing for good. This is a small fabrication: in real life the Zulus left because they weren't supposed to be there in the first place — Prince Dabulamanzi, the commander of the Zulu force that attacked Rorke's Drift, was King Cetshwayo's half-brother, and noted for his rashness and aggressive command behaviour. The attack at Rorke's Drift was actually a direct violation of orders from the king, specifically that the Zulu forces were to act only in defence of Zululand, and under no circumstances to invade British-held territory. In reality, the Zulus had just disappeared by the dawn after the final attack, and only one more Zulu impi was briefly sighted by the men, retreating about an hour ahead of the British reinforcements.
    • Chard is wounded and goes for treatment. He tells Bromhead that he is in command now, and adds, "It's what you wanted, isn't it?"
  • You Are Number 6: The Privates Jones refer to each other by the serial numbers of 593 and 716. We also meet 612 Williams. In Welsh regiments where an awful lot of people might be called Williams or Owen or Jones (Wales doesn't have that many surnames), this was, and remains, standard practice. While squaddies generally prefer to use distinguishing nicknames where possible, invention tends to fade after about the tenth Jones...
  • Zerg Rush: Again and again, the Zulus' chief tactic, though more by necessity than ignorance. Early in the film, Chard, Bromhead and Ardendorff discuss the Zulus' envelopment tactics, and decide that fortifying themselves within the mission negates the enemy's advantage. When the Zulu's attempt to draw the British out from the defences fails, Cesthawayo brings his riflemen into action, which has limited effect. Only then do the attackers resort to frontal assaults.

Tropes applying to Zulu Dawn:

  • Child Soldiers: While not serving in a combat role, the British army does have children serving in support roles. They don't survive.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The British army tries to get information out of the three Zulus they capture by beating the living shit out of them. The Zulus figured this would happen, and planned for it.
  • Dated History: The film depicts a key reason for the British defeat at Isandlwana that the soldiers ran out of ammunition because Quartermaster Bloomfield dispenses reserve bullets to soldiers in an absurdly slow, "orderly" fashion. This was widely believed when the film went into production, featuring in Donald Morris's popular book The Washing of the Spears among other accounts of the Zulu War. It appears this story is exaggerated, if not a myth; while Durnford's Native troops did ran out of ammunition, it was mostly because they had been deployed too far from the camp to ensure a steady supply of it, not Bloomfield's poor handling of the supply.note  Most British units closer to the main camp were able to keep up a steady stream of fire until they were overrun, as attested by both British and Zulu accounts of the battle, but their lines were spread too thin to properly defend the camp from a coordinated Zulu attack.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The first part of the movie is introducing us to several characters. Most of them won't make it to the end credits.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Chelmsford states the invasion "is the Final Solution to the Zulu problem." Apparently launching an unjustified invasion to satisfy imperialistic ambitions isn't enough to make him look a villain; he's got to be a proto-Nazi as well.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: And a Colour Sergeant Nasty as well. Private Williams is distracted on parade by the former yelling at a native contingent, so the CSN sends him over to the drill sergeant to say "I love you more than my Colour Sergeant." He's then made to run around the field holding his rifle over his head until as such a time as he collapses.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Pulleine is writing a letter to his wife as the Zulus overrun everything. One bursts into his tent, and Pulleine sets aside his gun and lets the man stab him.
  • Go Out with a Smile: One British solider, knowing he's soon to be done for, uses his last bullet to drop the biggest Zulu on the field, and has a jolly good laugh about it. He's quickly overrun and stabbed by about a dozen other Zulus.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Or just flat-out Too Dumb to Live. They wander off, leaving their three captives to sit and think up a means of escape. Then, when one starts calling out (the old "guards! Guards!" routine), only one wanders over, and gets laid out. His buddy is too busy staring off at the hills to notice as the Zulus cut themselves free, kill the guard, and run off.
  • Handicapped Badass: Durnford's only got one working arm, but he's still a capable fighter, and lasts a long way into the Battle of Islandwana before getting downed.
  • Hate Sink: Not a flattering depiction of Lord Chelmsford at all. He's an arrogant, idiotic jackass who seems to spend near every free moment glowering at someone, or ignoring advice just 'cuz, ultimately leading to the slaughter at Isandlwana. At no point does he show anything approaching a likeable trait.
  • Hero of Another Story: In the final scene, as Chelmsford and his escort discover the overrun camp, Crealock informs Chelmsford that he's ridden a little way along the track that leads to Rorke's Drift — "The sky above is red with fire," as the characters of the original film are currently fighting for their lives.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Quartermaster Edward Bloomfield is portrayed as an incompetent fool who is in part responsible for the slaughter at Isandlwana due to refusing to hand bullets to soldiers out of turn even when they're being overrun by Zulus. This is a common myth about the battle based on the fact that Durnford's native troops ran out of ammunition, but in reality this was due to the distance from camp wreaking havoc on the supply lines, not any mishandling of the supply on Bloomfield's part.
  • Ignored Expert: A Boer and his son, who have already seen combat against the Zulus (and have the assegai scars to prove it) suggest a defensive technique of circling their wagons into a laager. Chelmsford ignores them.
  • Miles Gloriosus: The trader who runs into the Zulu scouts claimed he was trailed by a dozen of them, when the British can see he was only followed by three or four. Makes his claims he'd seen more dubious.
  • Oh, Crap!: A perfectly sensible reaction to finding several thousand armed Zulus right on top of you.
  • Only Sane Man: Several characters occupy this position. Bishop Colenso who tries to talk Bartle Frere out of starting the war. Durnford, being seemingly the only high ranking officer to understand how to fight the Zulus. Hamilton-Brown, who is openly disgusted by Chelmsford's arrogance and refusal to tend to his soldiers' well being. Harford, who desperately tries to get reinforcements sent to the outnumbered Pulliene and is continually rebuffed, and finally reporter Norris Newman who correctly predicts exactly what's going to happen when Chelmsford splits his forces.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Cetshwayo's son demands he kill the messenger relaying the British Empire's view of the Zulus. Cetshwayo does not.
  • Skewed Priorities:
    • A common problem with the quartermaster in the column. A native worker drowns in the river? Well, he's got mud all over the bullets. Later on, during the battle, he refuses to hand out bullets to soldiers out of turn, even when they need those bullets because the Zulus are overrunning them at that very moment.
    • Chelmsford. Having just wandered into hostile territory and split his forces, he decides to make camp, have a light lunch and get his picture sketched. He ignores the messages of "we're under attack" because he's too busy stuffing his face.
    • Crealock scolds Lieutenant Harford for being alarmed when he passes on the message of troops being overrun.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: The final scene of the movie is Chelmsford wandering through the ruins of the camp at Isandlwana, just staring at the devastation his bad decisions helped cause.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Lord Chelmsford, and most of his officers. They all laugh at the Only Sane Man at the luncheon, who calls them out on eating while the troops go hungry (and Chelmsford's reaction is to sneer at the man for being "poorly behaved" and Irish. Ironic too, given that Chelmsford is played by Irishman Peter O'Toole)
  • Zerg Rush: As before, the Zulu's main battle tactic. And it works for them. The British have guns, cannon, and mortars, and they still run out of bullets and get overrun.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Zulu Dawn


Saluting fellow Braves

While this never happened historically, the Zulus of the film give the defenders of Rorke's Drift a final salute before leaving.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / WorthyOpponent

Media sources: