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Zulu Dawn (Movie review)

Mike Bobbitt

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Zulu Dawn
Movie Review

Plot Details: This review reveals major details about the movie‘s plot.

I guess under most circumstances I‘d like this movie. I enjoy military history and good action flicks, and by all counts this is both. The problem is that it sits next to the film ZULU on my video shelf, and I‘m forced to compare the two. Against the earlier epic retelling of the heroic stand at Rorkes Drift this film seems to pale, and it‘s not just because it tells the story of a major British defeat.

Zulu Dawn is the story of the massacre of over 800 British soldiers and 400 native allies at Ishlandewana in January of 1879. Through a series of political manipulations the British Government succeeds in forcing the Zulu nation into a war. The main reason was to neutralize the military threat the Zulu nation posed to the South African colonies and incidentally invade, conquer, and exploit the vast lands and cattle of Zulu Land. All of this is explained in the first half of the movie.

The British commander of the invasion, Lord Chelmsford displayed equal amounts of contempt and ignorance for his enemy‘s abilities, and total lack of common sense. He literally broke every basic rule of military common sense and tactics known. He ignored information and intelligence on the Zulus and continually split his force into small columns incapable of supporting one another.

It was one of these columns the centre or number 3 one that was surprised by a force of 20,000 Zulus and literally wiped out in the space of a few hours on January 22, 1879. Even though outnumbered and surprised, the British soldier‘s superior fire power almost won the day.

The Zulus were for the most part armed with spears and clubs, a poor match for the breech loading rifles of the Redcoats. Then the British began to run out of ammunition and the battle turned against them. In a perfect example of bureaucracy run amok, the British Quartermasters were refusing to issue ammunition without the proper paperwork being completed even as men were falling around them.

The movie shows all this in an entertaining and for the most part realistic manner. The battle sequences are well staged and the acting is overall good. Peter O‘Toole portrays Lord Chelmsford perfectly as the pompous fool he was. Burt Lancaster is effective as Colonel Dunfurd the commander of the native and colonial troops whose advice and experience was ignored. Bob Hoskins also has a small but good role as a veteran British Sergeant.

I think my main problem with the movie is the overriding theme of political correctness that seems to run through it. Perhaps it is due to the period in which it was made, but this seems to slant the whole movie.

It seem that almost all the British are portrayed as arrogant, and evil while all the Zulus are noble. There is one seen where we see British soldiers gleefully torturing stoic Zulus to extract information.

Sure history shows us that several of the British politicians were arrogant and pompous and that was the reason for this defeat. To portray all of them in this manner is inaccurate. Likewise not all of the Zulus were perfect. History has shown that Cetewayo the Zulu King was as manipulative and vicious as his British counterparts.

Maybe because it was made in a simpler time, before such labels, but ZULU does not suffer from this. In that movie we see the valour and heroism that was evident on both sides, Briton and Zulu, Black and White. For that reason, I find it gathers less dust on my shelf than Zulu Dawn.
 
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