This dramatic and true story recounts the breathtaking defeat of British Forces at the hands of a 20,000 strong and relentlessly determined Zulu army in 1879. General Lord Chelmsford (Peter O'Toole) is the man responsible for the fatal decision to split up the troops based on faulty information provided by Zulu prisoners. Colonel Durnford (Burt Lancaster) is the one armed hero who leads his men into battle with the Zulu forces that outnumber them sixteen to one. Sir Henry Bartle Frere (Nigel Davenport) constructs the impossibly demanding ultimatum that ignites the Zulu chief to an unforgettable show of arms.
- Meticulous recreation of a bloody clash between British and Zulu forces in 1879 South-Africa.
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 made 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).
- How to win a battle and to loose the war.
During the 1870's, South-East Africa become terrified by the invasion of the Zulu-nation that wanted to conquer the territories of the local tribes. Alarmed by the continuous man-slaughter and devastations of the country, the British send a minuscule regiment after an ultimatum to the Zulu-king. It is still for our eyes incomprehensible how it is possible that the British had the idea to send only 500 men to battle 10.000 Zulu-warriors! The result was easy to predict: the British, outnumbered by ten to one, were smashed in battle. One of the reasons was that all the cartridges broke when unloaded from the munition-waggons. Another reason was that the British had posted their soldiers at 20 yards from each other and this in front of hordes of Zulus coming up at hundreds in a row. The courage of the British must have been tremendous. Above all, most of the Zulus were addicted to drugs given by their sorcerers so they could not feel the bullets. Driven by their racist arrogance and by a typical Zulu-superiority complex (that the Zulus had against all other black tribes) they went further into the territory of the other black nations until they were stopped by a small British company (the 2nd Warwickshire Regiment) at Rorke's drift "Zulu (1964)" just the day after. This movie depicts the British as stupid snobs but in fact this was only the case for the superior officers.
- One amazing film!
This film must be the most under-rated film of its time. It is a very accurate depiction of the battle of Isandhlwana and the massacre of the British Soldiers. The casting was brilliant, Burt Lancaster and Simon Ward were outstanding in the lead roles. The film following the lives of very different people through a very short timespan was very well done baring in mind the amount of people the film focused on, from a native south african messenger, to an arrogant British General. The film was fair to both armies that fought on that day and deserves to be recognised as a movie epic.
- STIRRING and EXCITING WAR FILM. SEE IT.
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.
- Exciting and compelling!
While not on a par with 1964's Zulu, this is an excellent film and a history buff's delight. The cinematography is great and the production values high. Like another reviewer I,too, spotted the flaw of equiping infantry with cavalry carbines, but I won't quibble. The film is very balanced by not allowing the stupidity and arrogance of the generals and politicians to overshadow the heroism and sacrifice of the soldiers on both sides. Elmer Bernstein's music score is enjoyable, but again, a notch below John Barry's epic score from the '64 film. The VHS release of Zulu Dawn is atrocious. It doesn't even appear to be recorded in SP! If ever a film cried out for a digital wide-screen presentation in stereo, this is it. Maybe someday! Combine this film with Zulu for an enjoyable viewing experience.
- better than the original!
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
- Very under-rated
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.
- A black day for British colonialism depicted in a very good film
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.
cast: Burt Lancaster .... Col. Durnford
Simon Ward .... Lt. William Vereker
Denholm Elliott .... Lt. Col. Pulleine
Peter Vaughan .... QSM Bloomfield
James Faulkner .... Lt. Melvill
Christopher Cazenove .... Lt. Coghill
Bob Hoskins .... C.S.M. Williams
David Bradley .... Pvt. Williams
Paul Copley .... Pvt. Storey
Donald Pickering .... Maj. Russell
Nicholas Clay .... Lt. Raw
Phil Daniels .... Boy Pullen
Ian Yule .... Cpl. Fields
Peter J. Elliott .... Sentry
Brian O'Shaughnessy .... Maj. Stewart-Smth
Jan Bruyns .... Elder Boer
Sydney Chama .... Sgt. Maj. Kambula
Len Sparrowhawk .... Trooper James
Peter O'Toole .... Lord Chelmsford
Nigel Davenport .... Col. Hamilton-Brown
John Mills .... Sir Henry Bartle Frere.
Runtime: full and uncut version: 113 minutes.
Country: USA / South Africa / Netherlands
1981 - Won Award - Evening Standard British Film Award
Best Actor - Denholm Elliott