I first saw Zulu as a birthday treat in 1964 and it has remained one of my favourite films. The other afternoon, after subscribing to Netflicks and being disappointed by their American bias, I streamed Zulu as it would be five years since I last watched it. I was not disappointed. First and foremaost it is a war film about combat and valour, the troop of South Welsh Borderers commaned by Gronville Broomhead (Michael Caine) and Royal Engineers by Lieutenant Chard (Stanley Baker) withstanding the attack of 4000 Zulus. Yet there are subtleties and nuances behind this. The anti-war critique of the surgeon, played by Patrick Magee, and the strange conversation at the end between Chard and Broomhead reflected the times (1964) when it was made. A couple of the soldiers are clearly gay which was unusual for a war movie. The British Empire was crumbling by the sixties and Broomhead ‘s colonial racism and disparagement of the Zulu is held up to ridicule by Arndorf, who understood and appreciated their bravery as soldiers.They had run 48 miles fom their successful victory at Isandlwana the day before.
Zulu has three great acting performances in Stanley Baker, James Booth as the malinigerer Hook, and Nigel Green as Colour Sergeant Bourne. Green, a South African, is forgotten these days but he enhanced many a film in the late fifties and sixties. Booth’s final defiance of drinking brandy from the cabinet once he has successfully evacuated the hospital is one of the great facial shots of cinema. Stanley Baker brings his impressive authority to his role as he did every one. The only weak performance is that of Jack Hawkins as the whisky priest. They say he got the role as a favour from Stanley Baker who was first cast in The Cruel Sea, in which Hawkins starred on the bridge of the merchant vessel. Michael Caine ‘s casting as a public schoolboy is interesting as within two years he established himself as a cockney in Alfie. Although he had diverse roles he never really shook an image at odds with his breakthrough role.