Co-Writer/Director: Cy Endfield
Running time: 138 mins (approx)
Certification (UK): PG
UK Release date: 22nd January 1964
Watched on Sky+ Sunday 21st August 2011.
PLEASE NOTE: THERE MAY BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW.
I have seen this film many times before; it was a particular favourite of mine as a youth. It’s a story of immense bravery against seemingly insurmountable odds, and I guess that’s what attracted me to it. Add to that, it’s based on real events and you’ve got me sold! The British army has fought in many battles over the years and many medals have been won. The highest award for bravery is the Victoria Cross and no fewer than eleven were won by the defenders of a small outpost called Rorke’s Drift in Natal, Africa on January 22, 1879.
Having already won a great victory, slaughtering 1,200 British soldiers, Zulu warriors are on the march. Four thousand are headed for Rorke’s Drift, a small missionary hospital in Natal. A detachment of troops from a Welsh regiment are stationed there under the command of Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead. An officer of the Royal Engineers, Lieutenant John Chard, is also in the vicinity when word comes of the defeat. Having seniority, Chard takes command and begins to make preparations for the coming attack. A missionary, Otto Witt and his daughter, Margareta are also there, but are proving more of a hindrance than a help. After the first Zulu attack the Witts’ are sent away as Otto is distracting the men with his talk of death. Wave after wave of attacks ensue with great losses on both sides, but the garrison remains undefeated. Can they hold out? Will help come in time? Of course I can’t tell you here or the Spoiler Police will have me clapped in irons and put on Company punishment again.
Mostly filmed on location in Natal, you really get a feeling for the place. Of course the filmmakers couldn’t get 4,000 extras to play the Zulu army, but they did a pretty good job with what they had… Remember, no CGI back in 1964. This film is famous for being the first major film role for Michael Caine, who did a great job as the young aristocratic Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead. Equally good was Stanley Baker as Lieutenant John Chard R.E. Other performances of note came from; Jack Hawkins as Otto Witt, Ulla Jacobsson as Margareta Witt, James Booth as private Henry Hook and Nigel Green as Colour-Sergeant Bourne.
The story is told entirely from the point of view of the garrison and this does make matters seem very one sided. Of course the battle scenes are all very well choreographed, but nothing like as brutal as they would be if it was made today. I loved this film when I was growing up and, believe it or not, I still love it today. It is most probably because of the story it tells, rather than it being an outstanding piece of filmmaking. I must admit, though, that Michael Caine does stand out in this one, his star potential is there for all to see. Over all, a film I have no problem recommending, even though it may not be politically correct to do so these days.
My Score: 8.4/10.
IMDb Score: 7.8/10 (based on 13,839 votes at the time of going to press).
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92/100 (based on 13 reviews counted at the time of going to press).
Colour Sergeant Bourne: It’s a miracle.
Lieutenant John Chard: If it’s a miracle, Colour Sergeant, it’s a short chamber Boxer Henry point 45 calibre miracle.
Colour Sergeant Bourne: And a bayonet, sir… with some guts behind.