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GulyJimson21 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Released in a badly cut version in 1979 just before the resurgent interest in Burt Lancaster for his performance in "Atlantic City and Peter O'Toole for "Stunt Man", this fine historical epic died an ignominious death at the box office, on the second half of a double bill with the horror film "Silent Scream". It was originally planned by Cy Endfield as a companion film to his 1964 classic, "Zulu". That film opened with a voice over of Richard Burton speaking Lord Chelmsford's communication to Prime Minister Disraeli detailing the massacre that befell a British column of about 1,800 British Infantrymen and native contingents at the hands of Zulu warriors at Isandlwana on January 22, 1879. This disaster left the 155 men at the mission post at Rorke's Drift to fend for themselves against several thousand Zulu warriors headed their way. "Zulu Dawn" chronicles the chain of events that led up to the British debacle at Isandlwana, the worst defeat ever suffered by a professional army at the hands of native forces in history.

Director Douglas Hickox keeps the film moving along and the film is an excellent example of adapting historical events to the needs of cinematic form and drama. In a little less than two hours the causes for the war as well as the roots of the disaster are laid out in clear, if simplified terms. The arrogance of the British Empire as personified by Sir Henry Bartle Frere, (John Mills in another stiff upper lip performance) and his chief lieutenant, Frederick Theisger, Lord Chelmsford, (Peter O'Toole, nicely understated and subdued) are in the filmmaker's view clearly responsible for a war that need never have been fought at all. The film also makes clear that Sir Henry initiated the conflict without the knowledge let alone consent of the British Government. But the arrogance and sense of entitlement that blinds Sir Henry to dealing with the Zulu in a just and legal manner affects all the participants involved, from the highest government official to the lowest private. It is the mistaken belief that technology, (exemplified here by rockets, cannons and rifles) somehow gives nations the right to take by force whatever they want. Handing Chelmsford his orders, Sir Henry asks, "Does this cover, Frederick what we both know to be right?" "Most excellently, Sir Henry." He replies. It is as if they both need spoken confirmation that the crime they are about to commit is in fact justified.

This English disdain is not just reserved for the Zulu, but for fellow countrymen as well. After Col. Hamilton-Brown, robustly played by Nigel Davenport refuses his table in order to be with his men still on the march, Chelmsford contemptuously warns his aide-de-camp, Lt. Hartford, sensitively played by Ronald Pickup to, "Learn nothing from that Irishman, except how not to behave." But his real distaste is reserved for Col. Anthony Durnford, a rough-hewn Irishman who has a way with the native troops. With his understanding of the Zulu warrior and his knowledge of the topography, Durnford would obviously be of great use in the coming campaign, but almost immediately there is tension between the two men. And with Burt Lancaster as Durnford it is easy to see why Chelmsford might feel threatened. Even with the use of only one arm, he is a natural leader of men, intelligent and charismatic and unlike Chelmsford he respects the Zulu. It is one of Lancaster's sage portrayals and this time he sports an Irish accent. Dialects were never one of his strong points and this one doesn't completely convince, but it is consistent and it underscores Durnford's isolation among the English who make up most of Chelmsford's staff. More importantly, even at 65, Lancaster has a bravado and dash which makes it understandable how he might warm the heart of beautiful young woman. Fanny Colenso so loved the older Durnford that she went on a one woman crusade to clear his name when the official inquiry into the disaster attempted to shift the blame for it onto him.

A great cast is well used in many telling vignettes. Denholm Elliot as the gentle Col. Pulliene has a moving death scene. Simon Ward as William Vereker represents what is best of the British aristocracy abroad and he quickly becomes disenchanted with the war, ("A very dirty business, indeed.") Michael Jayston as Col. Crealock, Chelmsford's secretary catches all the charm and tact needed for that difficult position. Freddie Jones and Anna Calder-Marshall as Bishop Colenso and his daughter Fanny, having lived among the Zulu are righteously indignant at the prospect of war. Ronald Lacey as Correspondent Norris Newman delights in skewering the official lies about the war. Peter Vaughn as Quartermaster Bloomfield, whose obsession in accounting for every cartridge and shell would have such horrific consequences is marvelous. Simon Sabela makes a very impressive King Cetshwayo in one of the opening sequences to the film and Bob Hoskins as tough Sergeant Major Williams is a lot of fun. With great battle scenes and a rousing score by Elmer Bernstein, "Zulu Dawn" is a worthy companion to "Zulu".
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A black day for British colonialism depicted in a very good film
sirdar13 January 1999
The events leading up to and culminating with the 1879 battle of Ishandlwana are depicted very well in this exciting film. Although made some 15 years after the 1964 flim "Zulu", this film is actually the "prequel" to the other and should be viewed first in order for a better understanding of these two events in the British invasion of Zululand. The cast contains too many splendid actors and performances to single any out. Some historical errors do creep in but, on the whole, the film conveys the look and feel of the real thing. Very much worth the price of admission.
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Review of "ZULU DAWN" - by one of the crew & cast
transkei1 August 2005
This movie had the potential of being great - what with us going well over budget ($52mill) We had the stars - most being very professional but with two major flaws - with incompetents such as Douglas Hickox and Peter O'Toole (directly responsible for the over-budgeting) 2nd Unit Director, David Tomblin and Peter Mc Donald - 2n Unit film Director were largely responsible for saving the production - in many more ways than one.

Our skeleton crew had to re-shoot many scenes. It took a lot of serious brainstorming and communication with the amaZulu to be able to complete this very important depiction of one of many battlers that took place between the "natives" and the invading colonialist (Boer & British) armies.

The passion, pathos, emotion and pain of reliving this momentous battle had an immense effect on myself, especially as I was one of the isiZulu Interpretors and Liaison people - as well as one of the second assistants.

The scenery may well have been spectacular; but working in such close/intimate - trusting proximity with 6000 amaZulu warriors was an experience beyond all comprehension.

I still regard this movie to be a very valuable one - especially since the fall of the previous South African regime and highly recommend it.
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one of the last great epic war films - also the only good "Prequel" in history
Aylmer27 August 2005
Not perfect, but awesome in its spectacle and casting, ZULU DAWN makes a fine companion piece to it's earlier sequel, ZULU.

DAWN starts fairly slowly with lots of lengthy contrasting scenes in Zululand and Natal, showing a big rift between the comfortable life of the British Colonials in Natal vs. the primitive barbarism of the Zulus. It's only inevitable that conflict later comes in one way or another and boy does it ever! The final battle scene consumes roughly the last 30 minutes of the movie and it's very exciting to see roughly 1200 British soldiers swiftly get overrun by a 30,000 strong army of Zulu warriors armed with spears. The red coats mow down wave after wave of Zulus but they just keep coming. The best scenes show the Zulu wave murdering wounded soldiers lying in their beds and then even running through the poor mess cooks! Then comes one of the best shots in any epic film (reminding me of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and BATTLE OF NERETVA) with one excellent long shot where the entire background shows the Zulus swarming through the British tents while in the foreground a Zulu stabs and British soldier to death.

The main disappointment here is that Peter O'Toole is a bit underused and in his rather 2-dimensional presentation of Lord Chelmsford as an uptight snob really doesn't have the complexity or larger than life impact that one would usually expect from him. The rest of the cast comes off great though, especially Denholm Elliot, Peter Vaughan, Bob Hoskins, and especially Simon Ward. The musical score is very good as well, though at times possibly a little distracting and oppressive.

Hats off to the cinematographer and location managers for this one - I believe ZULU DAWN was shot at the actual South African locations near the real battle (though Isandlwana hill was too modernized and built up to use for the film), so the authenticity of this film shall probably go unequaled into history. I heartily recommend this film to any fan of large-scale war and action films - just hang in there for the climax as it's one of the finest in all filmdom.
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Meticulous recreation of a bloody clash between British and Zulu forces in 1879 South-Africa.
pete3624 July 2003
In fact, a prequel to 'Zulu' (1964) directed by Cy Endfield who was also a major collaborator on ZD. As 'Zulu' is about the battle of O'rourke's drift, one of the most celebrated victories in British military history, ZD deals with one of the biggest defeats of the British army by an indigenous force. It happened just a few days before the events in 'Zulu'.

ZD is sheer heaven for history buffs : everything is recreated into the tiniest detail : the uniforms, entirely filmed on location in South-Africa Natal province , the famous Martini Henry rifles, even including some kind of prehistoric rocket launchers, so no cost or effort were spared to recreate the conditions of the battle.

The Brits are represented by the cream of English actorsgild : Peter O'Toole as the too self-confident general, Simon Ward as the green lieutenant, Bob Hoskins (just before his breakthrough role in "the Long Good Friday") as a hardasnails sergeant and Denholm Elliot as one of the ignorant troop commanders.

Also a large Boer party ( settlers mostly from Holland as 'Boer' is the Dutch word for farmer) took part in the battle, lead here by none other then Burt Lancaster ! In 1879 the Boers still sided with The British against the Zulus. Twenty years later, after having defeated the Zulus, the Brits and Boers turned against each other and became involved in a struggle for the diamond-rich Natal province. A very bloody three-year war followed, simply known as 'the Boer war', where the British army was nearly defeated by the much smaller number of unprofessional Boers soldiers.

Director Douglas Hickox ( Entertaining Mr Sloane, Sitting Target, Sky Devils,etc..)does an excellent job and turns in a classic-style, immaculate and spectacular epic. Sadly ZD was a big flop at the box-office and marked the end of the old-style colonial epics, up until the recent remake of 'The Four Feathers'.

It also marked the end of the career of director Hickox in feature-length movies and he was forced to work for TV, condemned to churning out superior 'schmalzy' series as 'Mistral's Daughter', 'Sins', etc...

But as historical epics go, they do not come any better than this. I rate it 8/10.

If you like this try also 'Khartoum' (1966).
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Old-fashioned, but good
dr_foreman28 December 2005
I like "Zulu Dawn," but maybe for strange reasons. I'm glad that it favors plot over characterization, and I appreciate its attention to detail and tactics. Too many modern war movies ignore tactics, and don't place battles in their proper contexts. Here, it's easy to follow exactly what's happening, and why.

What makes the film especially memorable is that it's the story of a military disaster - the biggest defeat of a "modern" army at the hands of a "primitive" one (though I believe the Zulus suffered higher casualties than the British did). The script pretty much telegraphs the battle's result from the beginning; Peter O'Toole, as the British commander, is clearly too stubborn and blind to danger, so the attentive viewer should realize fast that he's heading for a fall.

The ending is somewhat misleading, though. The final caption might suggest to some viewers that the Zulus won the whole war. Sadly, they were beaten pretty rapidly and suffered some hideous defeats. I guess that's what makes this initial Zulu victory so noteworthy - almost unbelievable, really.

As is often the case in war movies, "Zulu Dawn" features big-name actors playing real soldiers. This makes it easier to tell the somewhat thin characters apart. Though nobody gives a career-best performance, it's great to see O'Toole, Burt Lancaster, Bob Hoskins and a solid cast of British character actors together in one movie.

I don't suppose they'd ever make this today. The politics are too awkward; I don't think a modern audience would have much sympathy for the British or the Zulu. And, of course, contemporary movies have rejected old-time spectacle, electing to replace sweeping landscapes and huge crowds of extras with fake-looking CGI.

But, in this case, old-fashioned is good. "Zulu Dawn" is definitely worth checking out in budget DVD form.
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Very under-rated
vaughan.birbeck12 July 2000
As a long-time fan of the original "Zulu" I'm always surprised this film hasn't got the same reputation. True the story isn't as 'tight' as the Sixties classic (more scene-setting, more characters to deal with) but the production values are excellent, the photography beautiful and the climactic battle scenes brilliantly staged.
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Oh, the Humanity
vox-sane30 September 2003
Ostensibly a detailed retelling of the defeat of British forces at Isandlwana, and an attempt to duplicate the success of the earlier "Zulu" (about the battle at Roarke's Drift, a British "Alamo" situation that the British won). However, "Zulu" had a taut storyline and the tension never leaves until the end. "Zulu Dawn" is necessarily more diffuse, covering the folks at home (both in South Africa and Zululand) and the converging of battle forces and the division of the British between Lord Chelmsford's column and the men at Isandlwana. Through it all, stock military characters (the crusty cockney Sgt. with the caring heart, the Gomer Pyle recruit, the commanding officer who can't even pronounce the name of the camp, the far-sighted outsider who gives satiric barbs about everything (in this case, newspaperman Norris-Newman, played with wonderful acidity by Ronald Lacey), the military commander who thinks he's omnipotent, the jolly young chaps in the officers' mess . . .

A lot of fine actors (Nicholas Clay, Simon Ward, James Faulkner, Ronald Pickup, Donald Pickering, Michael Jayston) wind up without much to do other than lend their names to a prestigious cast headed by Peter O'Toole, Burt Lancaster, and John Mills. Nigel Davenport comes off well with a flamboyant Hamilton-Browne and Lancaster and O'Toole are always dependable. But there's no focus in the story and there's little sympathy for either the British or the Zulus, such as they were able to impart in "Zulu".

Also, the movie takes the easy route through Isandlwana. Instead of ascribing any of the blame for the defeat to Col. Durnford (who should be considered the commander at Isandlwana rather than Pullein), all the blame is accounted to the hubris of Lord Chelmsford (the chilling Peter O'Toole). Though Chelmsford gives terse reasons for, say, not laagering his wagons, his reasoning should not be dismissed as specious. And it's never clear (as the fact was) that Chelmsford's was the _major_ column and not the camp at Isandlwana.

The main cause for the British disaster is fairly clear in the movie, and that's the method of giving out bullets. Peter Vaughan gives a crafty performance as the quarrelsome quartermaster who demands that each bullet be accounted for at the head office. The niggardly way the bullets were dispersed to the men, who were holding the Zulu back until they ran out of ammunition on the front lines while crates of bullets were held back in the wagons, was the primary cause of the disaster. It would've been nice to have broken with tradition by laying some blame on Col. Durnford for dividing the force, though Lancaster's Durnford is never anything less than the hero of the movie.

Most viewers probably don't care about the facts of the disaster, but they will care that the feature itself is not compelling. Nevertheless, if one can sit through it, it makes a companion piece to "Zulu" that does set up the tense drama and excitement of that better movie.
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christopher-455 May 2003
An impressive recreation of the events leading up to and of the battle of Isandlwana. The cast quality was first class, but the film jumped about from British to Zulu camps and back again to much, and some more footage of the Zulu rulers and their decisions would have been nice.

As it is the film gave a fairly balanced account of both sides. The actual battle scenes were very impressive but given the area at Isandlwana were not as tightly shot as in Zulu nor as good, and thus the same atmosphere just wasn't there, with scenes jumping around, and you could not relate to the individual characters as much as in Zulu, as they were on and off screen to quickly.

The Zulu charge though was frightening, and you felt for the soldiers who had to meet it. In short, not as good as the original, and with some mistakes in the British weapons and some equipment, but a very good introduction to Zulu if you were to see both movies back to back.
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Straightforward recounting about the British defeat at the battle of Isandhlwana by Zulu warriors
ma-cortes10 October 2008
This historical epic is a spectacular retelling of the deeds leading a bloody battle where a regiment was massacred by a force over thousands Zulus commanded by Cetschwayo(Sabela) at Zululand. In command of British force is General Lord Chelmsford well played by Peter O'Toole and an excellent Burt Lancaster plays Colonel Durnford as a tough and veteran officer. Extraordinary secondary cast formed by prestigious British actors, such as Simon Ward,John Mills, Peter Vaughn,Ronald Lacey, Michel Jayston, James Faulkner(also producer), among others. The battle scenes are magnificent with deployment of the vast forces, and exciting combats when the army try to defend from attack by thousands of Zulu warriors.Stunning cinematography with colorful landscapes and martial musical score by the master Elmer Berstein. The picture is well directed by Douglas Hickox who translates perfectly the outstanding battles. This is a prequel about 'Zulu'(1963,Cy Endfield) depicts the electrifying battle of Roarke'Drift where little more than hundred soldiers made a valiant stand against thousands Zulu warriors.

Adding more details over the largely depicted on the movie, the incidents happened of the following manner : Zulu victory over British forces 22 Jan 1879 about 160 km, north of Durban.A column led by Lord Chelmsford seeking the Zulu army camped at Isandhlwara, road to Ulundi while patrols went out to scour the district. A report was received and Chelmsford moved out with half his strength, leaving the camp occupied by six companies of the 24th Regiment, two guns, some colonial volunteers and some native contingents: about 1800 troops in all. Late in the morning , an advance post warred of the approach of a Zulu army. Then a mounted patrol found thousands of Zulus concealed in a ravines as the patrol rode to warn the camp, the Zulus followed. The camp commander spread his troops around the perimeter of the camp, but the Zulus broke through, the native contingents fled but were chased and killed. The 21 officers and 534 soldiers of the 24Th Regiment were killed where they fought , there were no wounded , no prisoners and no missing. Only about 50 Europeans and 300 Africans escaped. The invasion of Zululand was temporarily halted until reinforcements were received from Britain. Despite the defeat, the Zulus were humiliated and crushed at Roark's Drift battle.The battle of Isandhalwana was recorded in history as the worst defeat ever inflicted on a modern army by native troops. In Parliament upon the downfall of his government, British Prime Minister , Benjamin Disraeli, asked the question: 'Who are these Zulus ,who are these remarkable people who defeat our generals , convert our bishops and who on this day have put an end to a great dynasty?
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Tokugawa14 August 2002
We waited a long time for the prequel to "Zulu", so eventually we got "Zulu Dawn". It depicts the Battle of Isandhlwana between the British and the Zulus. It turned out to be one of the great disasters the British ever experienced.

The Zulus in this film are accurately depicted as highly disciplined soldiers, and in some ways shows them in a more human way than "Zulu". Historically, it is reasonably accurate - at the time it was filmed. By that I mean, recent scholarship has showed that the assumed reasons for the British problems were really not the case. It wasn't that there were difficulties with ammunition, it was that the rifles were used so much they began to misfire, plus atmospheric conditions degraded visibility contributing to British disaster.

But a fine, entertaining movie filmed on a much bigger scale than "Sulu" was. If you can find it, SEE it. Burt Lancaster was especially good in his role.
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The movie: yes, the reviews: no
mhtyler29 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
It is frustrating to see so many reviews here that insist on going beyond a review of the movie to comment on history as portrayed therein. Nearly everything I've read in a survey of the reviews here is rubbish. I've studied the battle for years, and have been to the battle site.

The movie is excellent, and it is superficially accurate with respect to the battle, but much is left out, and still more is injected that doesn't belong.

First of all, there is an anti-war sentiment throughout the movie that seems to be pinging off the end of Vietnam. Newman Noggs for instance appears doggedly anti-war in spite of the fact that the real Newman was completely pro-war and rather blood thirsty.

The conclusion is made much too strongly that tight control of ammunition led to the disaster, although it was an issue. One Lt. of the 24th took a box of ammo only to have Bloomfield shout at him not to. The Lt responded, "you don't want a bloody requisition now do you?"

However, the real slowdown in ammunition came because the troops were all spread out up to a quarter mile away from the camp! You have to see the hugeness of the battlefield and how incredibly spread out the troops were.

Then try carrying an 80 pound box of ammo a quarter of a mile during a pitched battle! They were too far away to keep supplied, and by the time Pulleine figured it out and sounded retreat was it was too late.

They were mostly cut up trying to get back to the camp.

The movie blames Chelmsford, which is fair enough. He was arrogant. By the way, he didn't just split his command in two, he split it in 7 parts! However, ISandlwana should have been able to defend itself if look-out watches had been properly kept, and the troops arrayed nearer camp. Col Pulleine was an administrator and had never been in a battle.

He was caught flat footed, spread out, and was cut up piece-meal, although according to the Zulus it was still a close call...for a time the British were winning, but they couldn't hold.

Notice BTW in the movie, the man Chelmsford sends with a spyglass to observe ISandlwana comes back and says, "The tents have not been struck.". Any British commander knows what that means. If battle is coming you strike the tents immediately, first so that the men can see clearly behind them as well as in front, second so that if battle enters the camp they won't be tripping over guy wires, and finally so that anyone outside of the camp will see tents struck and understand that battle is at hand. This Pulleine failed to do.

Durnford by the way is held completely blameless. Its true that Chelmsford and others tried to blame things on him at the time. His orders were misplaced, and they weren't found until the 1950's, and even then they weren't readable. It wasn't until the 90's that new forensic techniques allowed them to be read. He had been ordered by Chelmsford from Rorke's Drift to the East end of the battle plain (ISandlwana being on the West end). When Durnford passed through the camp, he knew Pulleine had been specifically given command, and that he altogether wasn't to take charge, but to keep moving through. Instead, he stayed to help Pulleine.

So you see, although the movie is essentially accurate, some of the conclusions you draw from a 100 minute film don't necessarily give a clear notion of what, where, and why, even though I do think the movie is excellent.

Finally, for those of you wondering, Verriker was never in the fight to save the colors. He was killed elsewhere. The colors were dropped in a gully, and recovered some months later downstream from the bodies of Coghill and Melville. The person who Verriker was essentially portraying, was Lt Higginson, but he actually did survive and is the reason why we know exactly what happened in the fight to save the colors.

I recommend this movie strongly, but if you want the real history, look further.
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Contains one major spoiler
gonblock4 April 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I am not a huge fan of war movies,but I felt that Zulu Dawn was a very good war movie.I find it entertaining to watch a high ranking English officer argue with subordinates,underestimate the strength and cleverness of the enemy,and commit a complacent tactical blunder.However,don't misread this review.There is much more to this movie than just an English officer making a mistake.Zulu Dawn contains everything that a good movie should have.Good plot,good dialogue,good battle scenes,a star studded cast,and a fine ending.One of the many things that I enjoyed about this movie was the stark contrast between the opposing armies.The English were very well dressed and equipped with advanced weaponry for that time period.Gun powder,cannon ball,and cavalry.The Zulu were hardly dressed at all and their weapons were very primitive.Spears and shields.It makes for an interesting battle. While I can't comment on the historical accuracy of this movie(I wasn't alive in 1798)I will say,without going into explanation,that I thought Zulu Dawn was a much better movie than it's predecessor, Zulu.If you like a war movie with very realistic action/battle scenes,I recommend Zulu Dawn.
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Reasons for the defeat
jack_cox_194322 January 2006
I won't go through the details of the movie, as that has been adequately covered in previous reviews. I found this movie very "Hollywood," with little substance. It cannot hold a candle to the earlier "Zulu."

A side note, from an earlier review: "The main cause for the British disaster is fairly clear in the movie, and that's the method of giving out bullets. Peter Vaughan gives a crafty performance as the quarrelsome quartermaster who demands that each bullet be accounted for at the head office. The niggardly way the bullets were dispersed to the men, who were holding the Zulu back until they ran out of ammunition on the front lines while crates of bullets were held back in the wagons, was the primary cause of the disaster."

That may be the "theatrical" reason for the defeat. However, later research has shown that the Martini-Enfield will seize in relatively short order due to the heat generated by rapid firing. The "held back" ammunition theory, and the "un-openable cartridge crate" theory were both debunked after extensive digging at the site.
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A bit of "sport" ...
Bishop-1123 August 1999
Although less spectacular than its predecessor "Zulu" "Zulu Dawn" is still an excellent war film which properly captures the sheer incompetence of the senior British officers and the nobility and fighting spirit of the Zulus. The action sequences are expertly handled and the frightening ferocity and speed of the Zulu attack and the total overwhelming of the British forces is well portrayed. The film isn't quite so impressive in the acting stakes, with stars O'Toole & Lancaster being overshadowed by the likes of Bob Hoskins, Paul Copley and Dai Bradley as the squaddies forced to suffer the fatal consequences of their officers' mistakes. It also misses the stirring John Barry score from the previous film, with Bernstein's score only making an impact during the fight sequences. If you have the time and the inclination, trying watching "Zulu Dawn" and "Zulu" back to back. Tremendous.
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making the movie
salecyoung6 June 2006
I was lucky enough to be working in Pietermaritzburg when this movie was made. The Natal Cricket ground in PMB was used as the army camp and the cricket pavilion was used as HQ. Many of the night shift guys I worked with at The Natal Witness got jobs as background extras in the army scenes .. they told me that the uniforms were badly made and that the jackets had no buttons ... the guns were made of wood ... well it wasn't noticeable in the movie I think. The company that made it, Samarkand, went bust during the filming of the movie and many local contractors never recovered their outlay, particularly the farmers that supplied some of the waggons, etc. This delayed the eventual release of the film. The town was full of Imperial car hire cars during the weeks of filming, was an exciting time in "sleepy hollow". A good movie though, factually correct unlike the original Zulu, thought that was a more enjoyable movie.
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Works Better As A history Lesson Than A Film
Theo Robertson19 May 2002
ZULU DAWN lives in the shadow of ZULU . That's hardly surprising because ZULU is the much better film , however unlike the 1964 film DAWN does stick to historical accuracy . The British are portrayed rightly as being overconfident , arrogant and foppish and it's this hubristic attitude that has lost wars when a superpower looks down its nose at the fighting capabilities of a backward third world nation . The British almost repeated the same mistakes during the Boar war , and the French and Americans done it in south east Asia , and the red army did it in Afghanistan.

DAWN does chronicle in great depth the mistakes made at the battle of Isandlwana: Chelmsford split his forces , the army didn't reinforce the perimeter , they were spread too thinly , and the method of supplying ammo was totally flawed , but it's this that spoils the film , there is too much emphasis of what happened to cause this defeat . Despite having an all star cast ( Two of which won Oscars and a couple more who have been nominated ) there's little character focus and you care little for the people involved . The film would have worked much better if it concentrated on just Chelmsford and Bob Hoskins gruff Sgt Major instead of the many characters who drift in and out of the picture

ZULU DAWN isn't a complete waste of time though , despite the long wait the battle scenes are handled well ( But not as good as ZULU ) and like ZULU it shows that a lot of brave men died on both sides

Update March 2008 . Recent historical evidence suggests that ZULU DAWN is fairly inaccurate especially where mass ranks , or the lack of them are concerned . But still knowing what historians knew in 1979 it's still a serious attempt to portray the battle accurately at the time
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So many good actors, how can it be bad?
jukebox-226 March 2000
What an excellent depiction of the blundering that can be made by pompous generals - it's a wonder England held the empire for so long!

If you watch this on video the editing is less than perfect - the subtitles get lost so you can't read them properly.

If you want a good night of it, rent this one and then watch Zulu. The second film shows what happens at the second battle that occurred very shortly after the massacre in Zulu Dawn.

Peter O' Toole is magnificent and the commanding officer that doesn't know how to fight the Zulu and won't take advice from those that do. The scene where the QuarterMaster is making the runners line up for ammunition in the thick of the fight made my skin crawl.

Imagine being armed with a single shot rifle that has to be loaded each time, being short on ammo, and seeing thousands of angry spear throwing Zulu's charging at you. Great film - 8/10
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Selfcritical British
Roman-Nies19 April 2008
This film is outstanding for many reasons some of which have been already mentioned. But I want to add another reason why I appreciate this film. I know why the film was no hit at the box office. Anglo-Saxon audience is used that the British or US boys are always the good and the others are the ugly. In this film they are the fools (the stubborn, haughty commanders, the ammunition box holder) and the ugly as well (the scene where captured Zulus are tortured). This is reality, this is the reason why the British lost the battle. They did not take the Zulus as serious opponents. They were arrogant, blind and they had not the right tactics to oppose such a strong enemy. And this shows the film perfect. And this is the reason why I think this film is astonishing. Ten or twenty years earlier the British would not have wanted to make such a self-critical film. But this is a show piece for all people who think that one do not has to pay respect to others abilities and rights. There should not be a debate why the battle was lost. Well-equipped and well-trained British soldiers could have made a better performance with the right preparation for the battle (logistics, camping, scouting etc). But it was hardly possible to survive, in face of 25 thousand wild Zulu warriors who attacked with ferocity and dedication, maybe also with drug assistance. The army employed classic military indoctrination techniques, such as drill and war dances, in order to coalesce individuals into cohesive fighting units. The Zulu army was no doubt the only string native enemy of the British imperial forces in Africa. The only army the British forces did not defeat in Africa was that of Lettow-Vorbeck 40 years later, and that one was much smaller and used highly skilled guerrilla tactics. The initial view, reported by Horace Smith-Dorrien, was that the British had difficulty unpacking their ammunition boxes fast enough and that the quarter-masters were reluctant to distribute ammunition to units other than their own. This is also stressed in the film. The lack of ammunition caused a lull in the defense and a subsequent rout. Donald Morris in "The Washing of the Spears" argues that the men, fighting too far from the camp, ran out of ammunition, starting first with Durnford's men who were holding the right flank and who had been in action longer, which precipitated a slowdown in the rate of fire against the Zulus. This argument suggests that the ammunition was too far from the firing line and that the seventy rounds each man took to the firing line was not sufficient. But I ask myself who knows? Only 5 Brits or so survived the battle. Shortage of ammunition and difficulty in unscrewing the boxes could as well have been a minor and local problem. But be that as it may be the enemy was too Strong in sheer numbers. The only chance to survive was to fortify with the mountain behind and the hope that the Zulu would retreat after some time of exposition heavy gun fire. That the Martini-Henry rifles were prone to jamming should have also been a minor problem (maybe some spears also jammed!)

I find it interesting that at around the same time (some years earlier) the US army suffered a similar defeat by similar reasons (Litle Big Horn). It can also be noted that at the time after the defeat at Isandlwana the British feared that the lost battle could have the same effect as the battle in the Teutoburg Forest 1970 years earlier when 18 thousand Romans were exterminated by a Germanic guerrilla army (in fact Lettow-Vorbecks ancestors), because they were outmaneuvered. That time the Romans decided to abandon the intention to conquer Germany ( better:the land east of the Rhine). Would other nations worldwide take the example of the Zulus and rise against imperial Britain? It was vital for the Empire to defeat the Zulus. But the Romans had no guns, the difference between a Martini Rifle in a drilled hand and a spear is too big. In the long run the Zulus had to surrender. It is a pity that we do not know what would have become with a free Zulu nation! Would they have kept to barbarism? The impressing films battle scenes (thousands of Zulus in a frenzy run towards the British lines) are a masterpiece of coordination, although the in-fight is not very much realistic in parts, which is typical for films where no experts are consulted (later they are insulted). The shooting qualities are exaggerated. But this does not spoil the total impression of the film. The actors are good and dedicated, there is even space for some heroism which is always also found on the battlefield. This is balanced. I pay my respect to the makers of the film. The message could be that failure and weakness and foolishness in a "happy" union is often on the side of those who have not the right. All armies suffered from it.
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worth a look
VicTheDaddy27 March 2006
As a big fan of Zulu 1964,i had to watch the sequel Zulu Dawn.I must admit i was not disappointed,as this film does not try to out do or better the first,as there both about different battles of the same conflict.The good thing about this version is that it shows both points of view from both sides so you can make your own mind up.Another good point is that it shows the different classes that make up the British army,from the cockney Sgt to the stiff upper lip generals to the northern privates,this is just how the British army was and still is,this was the last time the British army wore red in battle.The only thing i thought was wrong with the film was when Burt Lancaster gets shot,and the music becomes very dramatic,its seems the bigger the star you are the more dramatic the death scene,after all when the boy soldier gets shot by our own rifles he doesn't get any music ,he just gets trampled over by thousands of Zulus.I'm surprised know one else commented on this,you rotten lot.
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How the British Lost the World
Bogmeister6 August 2005
This is the prequel to Zulu(64), long in coming, depicting the events immediately preceding those of the older film and showing how the war with the Zulu nation began. As such, this film has a larger scope than its predecessor, depicting how two nations go to war. Perhaps because of this, it lacks the focus dominating the more exciting Zulu(64), but is an excellent historical war film nonetheless. The British contingent here is much larger, consisting of about 1200 soldiers. The final half hour is just one long running battle, with the Brits firing their rifles, retreating and eventually being overrun. It's a good cast - O'Toole, Simon Ward, Denholm Elliott, Bob Hoskins just before he became fashionable, Ronald Lacey as a reporter (and anti-war voice; he was the villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark), a young Nicholas Clay (pre-Lancelot in Excalibur) and Nigel Davenport in a smaller role. Lancaster is on-hand with a semi Irish accent but his is not the biggest role, as it was in most of his films; he's just one of an ensemble here. Peter Vaughan has possibly the most memorable role as the supply master for the army; in other words, he's in charge of bullets and dispenses them with a rigid authority denoting how superbly British he is at the job. It's a very dark irony that it turns out to be the worst job he could have done in this battle.

John Mills, as the one who nominally sends an ultimatum to the king of the Zulu and declares war, states chillingly at one point that this is the final solution to the "Zulu problem" - calling to mind other such statements in history and an indication of where the writers' sentiments may lie; it also begs the question, would the anti-war slant have been evident if this film were made right after Zulu, in the mid-sixties? The British Empire is obviously the imperialist bully here, imposing its standards on other nations, but then you hear that the Zulu king killed 20,000 of his own people to establish his rule. Are these people no one's business because they're not British people? Questions raised have an uncanny resemblance to world events of only a few years ago, which occurred over 20 years after this film came out. How's that saying..? The more things change, the more they stay the same.
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Excellent Historical Film About Natives Revolting Against Colonialism
jjjanos313 May 2000
A historical accurate film that requires close attention to details like most English movies. The Film should be seen with "Shaka Zulu," "Zulu and "Rhodes." In this way you get a better picture of what was going on in South Africa during that era. This is a war movie commentary showing not all wars are heroic and victorious all of the time. As in many wars, many mistakes are made and watching them is worth the viewing. The acting is superb and when you come to know the true history of the exploitation of the continent, you will understand why Colonialism was a racist concept built on manipulation, and costing the lives of good decent and honest common men and women for the benefit of the very few rich and powerful. In the end, was it worth it is the question to be answered? Watch all four films and then you decide!
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winner553 July 2008
"Zulu" (1964) was an absolutely brilliant battle-epic: tightly directed, solidly photographed, well edited, with strong performance from all (including a young Michael Caine). Despite it's violence (more than half the film is the battle), it never lost sight of its primary themes - the remarkable courage of common men, the profound differences between the two cultures in conflict.

"Zulu Dawn" is a weak follow-up. In "Zulu" the characters were richly delineated; in "Zulu Dawn" we never get to know any of them, to the point where we feel little sympathy for them. It is also remarkable that the strongest acting comes from those playing very brief roles as Zulus - the Zulu Chief, the warrior who escapes to fight again, etc. All the white actors look poorly directed. And Burt Lancaster's accent is atrocious.

Beautiful photography, exciting final battle sequence, and an historically accurate narrative that is allowed to unfold its own themes; but too diffusely directed, and ultimately feeling incomplete.
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better than the original!
dtg1736 October 2001
This film is by far, less renowned that its closely linked film of ZULU. although this film was filmed over 10 years after ZULU, it is in fact a prequel, as that battle of ISLANDAWANA, took place prior to RORKES DRIFT, i find this film to be more gripping with its tense drama and action. also it is historically far more correct in its depiction of the battle. my ONLY critism, and it is a petty one!, is that the costume designers are correct in the way that they got the British infantry soldiers wearing "tea dyied" pithe helmets without there regimental badges, as to camouflage themselves and not stand out as bright shining targets as in ZULU, however the same soldiers are seen constantly using short cavalary carbines and not the correct henry martini rifle! overall though a much forgotten and very good film
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A Good Look at a Military Debacle
theowinthrop22 May 2005
Isandhlwana is to the Britain what Little Big Horn is to American colonialism, and they were only three years apart in time. It was like a pair of warnings that for all the benefits and advantages of civilization and science, the western powers could still be toppled or stopped by third world powers. The lesson has been learned again and again and again, America having learned it in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s (after France learned it in Indochina and Algeria, and Britain in Kenya, Palestine, and Ireland, and Italy in Ethiopia). But it is easy to forget that being human great powers can lose just like smaller countries. In the case of the Zulus and the Lakota Sioux the defeats were smothered to contemporaries (who deified Pullein and the others in their African camp, and Custer on his little hilltop) because the British went on to smash the Zulus (after a year of heavy fighting) and the Americans went on to destroy the Sioux (Crazy Horse, who won Little Big Horn, was killed within one year while under arrest).

ZULU DAWN was meant to be the prequel to ZULU, which is (in some ways) a better film. Here we are told how the perfidy of Bartle Freer and Lord Chelmford caused the war and the disgrace of the massacre. ZULU was about the next military event of the war (on the following day) - the attack on Roarke's Drift and it's monumental defense at great odds by Welsh troops. The end result, a remarkable acknowledgment by enemies of each other's abilities, was that the Zulus willingly left the battlefield after several attacks failed, saluting the Welshmen.

What is not told is why Bartle Freer and Chelmsford were so perfidious. Although the Zulus are depicted as peaceful, and aimed at for imperialist reason, the British were more concerned that the Zulus were traditionally a warlike group, and they had a tradition that occasionally their young men had to go on the warpath with their neighbors to earn their manhood. These neighbors were the British settlers in Natal. This point would have made the Zulus somewhat less sympathetic (similarly, by the way, the biggest imperialist move in the plain state region in the first half of the 19th Century was by the Lakota against their neighbors - a point frequently avoided by Indian rights groups in attacking American imperialists). It is always a case of whose ox is being gored, and in an age where the third world is always pictured in the right, one keeps forgetting when they were in the wrong.

The film is well produced, but ZULU is a better film for concentrating the action only on Roarke's Drift. The acting by Lancaster, O'Toole, and Mills is fine as as the always dependable Peter Vaughn and Desmond Elliot. It does teach us a valuable lesson in hubris, and makes one wonder (like Bishop Colenso in the film) that in such a large world why can't we all be contented?
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