Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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Private Cole: "Why does it have to be us? Why us?"
Colour Sergeant Bourne: "Because we're here, lad. No one else. Just us."


Zulu is a classic war film set during the Anglo-Zulu War. Based on true events, the film is the story of a Last Stand that the defenders managed to win. The Battle of Rorke's Drift was the result of the Battle of Isandlwana, at which the British expeditionary force of 2000 sent to crush the Zulus had been massacred due to the incompetence of their leaders. 139 British soldiers in a farmstead, assigned there to protect colonials and wounded (about one third of the 139) held out against 4-5,000 Zulus for twelve hours. The battle is held to this day as one of the very best defenses in all history (Take that, Little Big Horn!). Eleven of the soldiers got the VC (the highest honour that can be awarded to a Commonwealth soldier), the largest number of this medal ever awarded for a single action. Also notable for being the film debut of an insignificant actor named Michael Caine.

Zulu was followed fifteen years later by a prequel, Zulu Dawn, about the disastrous Battle of Isandlwana that took place earlier the same day. It starred Burt Lancaster and Peter O'Toole.

Tropes used in Zulu include:
  • Becoming the Mask: during the Men of Harlech scene you see dozens of weary demoralized soldiers who enlisted because no one else was poor enough for the job, converting themselves into the Proud Warrior Race Guy s that they were singing of.
    • If you look closely at the Zulus you can see how many are obviously youngsters out for the first time. They are becoming a mask too.
      • That may have been Fridge Brilliance rather then intentional. If every one had looked like a veteran of years of campaigning the message would not have gotten across. But because they were Real Life Zulus hired for a quick job, probably the first job of many of them, the effect was that a lot of them looked like fearful youths like all soldiers trying to live up to their own image and emotionally flagellating themselves to keep from running.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: "Suddenly, Zulus! Thousands of them!"
  • The Cavalry: Rather cruelly subverted. A large force of cavalrymen arrive at the fort...then flee when faced with the Zulu army.
  • Cunning Linguist: Adendorff gives cultural advice.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Bromhead, very much so.

Chard: Don't worry, Miss Witt. The Army doesn't like more than one disaster in a day.
Bromhead: Looks bad in the newspapers and upsets civilians at their breakfasts.

    • Adendorff also has his moments.

Bromhead: We've dropped at least sixty!
Adendorff: That leaves only 3,940.

  • Ensign Newbie: Bromhead.
    • In Real Life both he and Lieutenant Chard were fairly experienced officers, however.
  • I Can Still Fight: Time and time again.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: what the British and the Zulus do to each other whenever the Zulu's Zerg Rush manages to get through the British's dakka.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: Some soldiers use anachronistic Lee-Enfield rifles instead of Martini-Henry rifles. Officers use Webley Mk VI revolvers in lieu of period-accurate (but difficult to procure) Beaumont-Adams revolvers.
    • In the case of the Martini-Henry rifles, plenty were available. The sheer scale of the movie used up all the available blank cartridges in the obsolete .577/450 caliber, which is why Lee-Enfields were used in some crowd scenes.
  • Last Stand: Averted; they actually do win.
  • Loveable Rogue: Private Hook.
  • The Medic: Reynolds.
  • More Dakka: The chief tactic of the British.
    • Note that "rashasha" is a real-life onomatopoeia denoting automatic weapons in some parts of Africa.
  • Nippled and Dimed: The first TV screenings this film cheerfully screened it in its entirety, including the mass wedding sequence near the start where several hundred Zulu warriors dance their way into wedlock with a line of several hundred very exuberantly bouncy Zulu maidens. On the elsewhere mentioned African tribeswomen principle, this protracted scene of southern African pulchritude was always left in, regardless of the time of day of screening, throughout the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. Yet in the early 2000's, all this abruptly changed and British TV adopted a strictly censored version with all the bouncy toplessness left out. There was no clear reason given for this change of mind on the part of the broadcasters, and it was noticeable that later graphic scenes depicting mass slaughter of Zulu warriors under concentrated British riflepower were left in.
  • Not So Different: The Men of Harlech scene emphasizing the mutual warlikeness of the British and the Zulus.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Both the British and the Zulus.
  • Plunder: Zulus are shown rifling British dead at Isandhwana.
  • Scary Black Men: Zulus. Very much justified by Real Life.
    • Though not half so scary as the working class blokes in red coats. As Victor Davis Hansen observes the most dangerous warrior in 19th c. Africa averaged five feet eight inches, wore a wool uniform and lugged about sixty pounds of gear wherever he went. And unless horrifically misled chewed up Proud Warrior Race Guys and spit out the soggy bits.
      • They were still more then scary enough. Historically, the British, the Boers, and the Zulus were in South Africa like the three toughest kids in a high school arguing about who is toughest. And scaring all the little kids.
  • Sergeant Rock: Colour-Sergeant Bourne. Corporal Allen, although not a sergeant, also qualifies.
  • Seventies Hair: Well... the 1870s anyway. The long sideburns on the men wouldn't look out of place a century later.
  • The Spartan Way: The Zulus.
  • War Is Hell: "Do you think I could stand this butcher's yard more than once?"
    • The film does, however, adhere to the 60s trope of bloodless wounds - including bayonettings. The actual Zulu practice of disemboweling the dead, much referred to in accounts of the Isandlwana battlefield is also not referred to; the British troops found this quite revolting but it was described by the Zulu as a religious rite, allowing the soul of the dead man to escape and not haunt his killer. YMMV on the accuracy of this.
  • We Have Reserves: The Zulus.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: A couple times, and wrong on both counts.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Zulus appear to be massing again to wipe out the British, but it turns out they're saluting the British for their bravery before departing for good.
    • This is actually completely fictitious: In real life the Zulu's only left because the British reinforcements arrived... and it was in no way a peaceful and dignified retreat.
    • The Zulu's themselves are treated reasonably respectfully as brave warriors that just happen to be on the other side.
  • You Are in Command Now: Lieutenant Chard assumes command of the post, despite being an engineer rather than an infantryman, due to his three months seniority over Bromhead. In reality, he had three years seniority.
    • Chard was also explicitly left in command by Major Henry Spalding, who left the post to check on an overdue company.
  • You Are Number Six: The Privates Jones refer to each other by the serial numbers of 593 and 716. We also meet 612 Williams. In Welsh regiments where an awful lot of people might be called Williams or Owen or Jones (Wales doesn't have that many surnames), this was, and remains, standard practice. Although the Toms themselves prefer to use distinguishing nicknames where possible. Invention tends to fade after about the thirtieth Williams...
  • Zerg Rush: Again and again, the Zulu's chief tactic.