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Posted January 30, 2007


“ZULU: With Some Guts Behind It"

A Book Review


By Nancy Dunn

I have to admit, I had never seen the film “Zulu” when I was presented with a copy of this book to look over. I was, however, vaguely aware of the film’s reputation as a beloved icon of British cinema—not unlike the way “Gone With The Wind” is revered in some circles as an American one, making them both more than “just another long battle movie.” And I had always wondered if the reverence was for “Zulu” itself, or for the incident it glorifies?


Then I read this book. It could have been subtitled “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About ‘Zulu’ But Didn’t Bother To Find Out For Yourself.” Which is probably for the best, since author Sheldon Hall has done a job that can’t be beat. Clearly Hall absolutely loves “Zulu” and has painstakingly and meticulously researched every facet of its production. What’s more, he’s compiled it into a very interesting and readable book that is well-organized and progresses logically.


Hall used primary sources whenever possible, interviewed everyone left alive to interview, and is very gracious about crediting others’ sources and work. He does a nice job of describing the context of the times that the film was conceived of and made in (see especially Chapter 11, “Filming Under Apartheid”), and avoids the common pitfall of filtering a 1964 film through a revisionist, politically-correct modern point of view. Hall also does a nice job of explaining the balance that the filmmakers needed to strike between absolute historical accuracy vs. the need to make a film that was interesting and watchable. (It’s intriguing that screenwriter John Prebble’s original research and script for “Zulu” has since inspired many historians to further research the Rorke’s Drift incident depicted in the film—sort of a case of life imitating art imitating life.)


I did wish that Hall had been able to include more memories of the Zulu players in the film—I would have been interested in more details comparing the experiences and perceptions of the township vs. the tribal Zulu extras. The only real quibble that I have with this book is that there are quite a few typos—but this is the publisher’s fault, not author Hall’s. I did like the fact that the footnotes are placed at the end of each chapter rather than at the end of the book—it made it easier to access them as I read.


All in all, Sheldon Hall has done all of us a valuable service by documenting a piece of film history before it’s too late—I only wish all books claiming to tell the story of the making of a film were this good.


“Zulu: With Some Guts Behind It—The Making Of The Epic Movie”

By Sheldon Hall

Forward by John Barry

Hardcover: 431 pages                                        

Tomahawk Press 





Nancy Dunn is a museum director and film historian. She lives in New Mexico.


© 2007 Nancy Dunn. All rights reserved.





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