Set in Africa in 1872, Zulu is the story of a small battalion of British soldiers defending their outpost from an onslaught of thousands of local tribesmen.
The most apparent problem with Zulu is that the 140 or so British soldiers, and their minuscule outpost defended by walls made from sandbags looks like it could easily be overrun by the assembled Zulu hordes in a matter of minutes. I don’t know how historically accurate this is, but the way it’s shown in the film simply makes the Zulus look incompetent, as they approach the base just long enough to take heavy fire, before retreating without striking a single blow. Apparently they filmed it exactly as a historical consultant described it to them, but I think that historical consultant might have been on the old waccy baccy or something. I just didn’t buy it.
The desire to be historical results in this being surprisingly un gung ho. The British soldiers are praised for their bravery, and things are definitely shown from their perspective, but it feels more like a battle re-enactment by enthusiasts, with relative indifference to the politics or ethics of the thing. If it took a side it would be that of the British, and the Zulus are arguably shown to be the aggressors, but neither side is particularly vilified. The whole thing seems more about putting the battle on film rather than making any specific comment. But is this ok?
When the film was made in 1960s South Africa, there were strict rules against the cast and crew socialising with the black female extras because interracial sex was a penal offence. Similarly, the Zulu extras were not allowed to be paid as much as their white counterparts, with the film’s makers supplementing the difference by gifting them animals that were used in the production. With the brutal consequences of colonialism so visible, it is, perhaps, negligent not to address the rights and wrongs of the original foreign conquest that led to the situation.
At it’s core this film is a battle movie, no more no less. The entire film is spent either preparing for battle or in battle. As such it’s interesting and engaging, very well made and comparable to other epics of the era such as Spartacus. Well, if Spartacus had remained neutral between the slaves and Romans.