Director – Cy Endfield
Holy Fucking Moly: When watching a film which stars Michael Caine, there is one credit you don't expect to see:
I thought Michael Caine had been in films since the dawn of celluloid. I wasn’t expecting an ‘And Introducing’ credit. Bonkers.
But…. Actually, that credit isn’t the most bonkers Michael Caine element. The other point is that his character is quite effeminate and well spoken. Only the faintest trace of “MY NAME IS MICHAEL CAINE” here, for most of it he says things like “oh well done dear man” and other decidedly un-tough phrases.
This is going to take some getting used to.
The other thing that concerned me is after the big bombastic opening, which felt like a Western (thanks to John Barry's marvellous score), that the film would end up feeling quite a bit racist. For the majority of the film, my fears seem to be justified. The Zulu army have no real characterisation. they are neither portrayed as goodies or baddies. They are just an endless wave of enemy. Overwhelming the Brits by sheer massive numbers.
the Zulu army are an intimidating force - and whilst there are bloody thousands of them, it isn't just a 'run at the enemy' style battle. They are portrayed as noble enemies - they're tactical, they're calculating and they're brutal.
Ruddy hundreds of them die - but Zulu is an oddly bloodless film. A small dagger lightly pokes a soldier and they collapse dead. A bullet will knock someone over and they'll never get up.
Sure there is death. But it is all very tidy.
Its the mix of endless opposition and bloodless wounds that make the war seem quite flippant. That and the welsh. The welsh almost seem cliche, they're all jolly and "not now boyo" or screaming "NORMAN" or other Welsh things. And of course they're a choir. Of course they are. That is not a stereotype in any way.
So you let this jolly little story of stirling men fighting the jolly johnny foreigner in the Empire... you forget you're watching a war with imperialistic oppression at the very heart of it.
It isn't until the film's end that the film finally lets 'The Horrors of War' be expressed to the audience.
The first thing to really feel powerful is the sing-off. African music always sounds amazing. There is something to it which makes my hairs stand on end. Just listen to the Zulu chants at the end of the battle and see how moving they are... Especially when the Zulu chants begin mixing with the rich loveliness of the Welsh voices.
Then as these songs continue the soldiers begin to discuss the emptiness and guilt they feel to acting the way they have.
It begins to illustrate the futility of war. It is brave and it is beautiful.
Which is where I should end. But instead I will end on a flippant point. Speaking of Brave and Beautiful. Weren't the uniforms FRIKKIN AWESOME in those days?! Sod your camouflage. Give me glaringly bright colours any time.