June 10, 2014 0

London red carpet for the 50th Anniversary of Zulu

By in GEFilms


1964. Zulu received highly positive reviews from critics; Dennis Schwartz of Ozus Movie Reviews called it “one of the most splendid hours on film”. 50 years later, London’s Leicester Square rolls out its red carpet one more time to welcome the British masterpiece that would bring his fame to Michael Caine.

Zulu Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who starred as his own great-grandfather King Cetshwayo, was among those attending the digitally re-mastered screening of the film, together with Prince Harry and Welsh actor Sir Stanley Baker’s widow.

The event was raising money for charities helping wounded soldiers and African children.

Prince Harry has a long association with Zululand, first visiting the area with his father in his teenage years.

The film, which chronicles the events at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, tells the story of how 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded in a single action, when 150 British soldiers held off around 4000 warrior tribesman whose land they had invaded.

 Production curiosities

The film stars Stanley Baker and “introduces” Michael Caine, who at this early stage in his career was primarily playing bit parts.

Caine was playing a cockney comedy called Next Time I’ll Sing To You at the Criterion in Piccadilly when he was visited backstage by Stanley Baker, who told him about the part of a Cockney private in his upcoming film Zulu, a film Baker was producing and starring in.

Baker told Caine to meet the director, Cy Endfield, who informed him that he already had given the part to James Booth, a fellow Cockney who was Caine’s friend, because he looked more Cockney than Caine did.

Endfield then told the 6’2″ Caine that he did not look like a Cockney but like an officer, and offered him a screen test for the role of a snobbish, upper class officer after Caine assured him that he could do a posh accent. Endfield told him that it was the worst screen test he had ever seen, but they were casting Caine in the part anyway because the production was leaving for South Africa shortly and they had not found anyone else for the role. Though he tested poorly, Endfield gave him the part that would make him a film star.

Most of Zulu was shot on location in South Africa. Buthelezi, who turned 85, has described how the set was an “oasis” where “whites and blacks could mingle without any fuss”. Other scenes were completed at Twickenham Film Studios in Middlesex, England.

It has been rumoured that due to the apartheid laws in South Africa, none of the Zulu extras could be paid for their performance and that, consequently, Endfield circumvented this by leaving them all the animals, primarily cattle, used in the film. This is incorrect as all the Zulu extras were paid in full.

Most of the characters in the film were based on actual participants of the battle, but their behaviour is mostly fictional – something that has provoked disapproval: in an interview on the DVD, the descendants of Private Hook objected to his portrayal as a thief and malingerer (although his character acts bravely near the end of the film during some desperate fighting). Indeed, Hook’s elderly daughters walked out of the film’s 1964 London premiere.

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