I don't give a damn! And I want this wall nine feet high, firing steps on the
inside. Form details to clear away the Zulu bodies, rebuild the south
rampart, keep 'em moving! Do you understand?
In 1879, a communique from British South Africa to the government in London, narrated by Richard Burton, details the crushing defeat of a British army at the hands of the Zulus at the Batle of Isandhlwana. The first scene shows a sea of dead British soldiers, while victorious Zulus gather their weapons.
A mass Zulu marriage ceremony witnessed by missionary Otto Witt, his daughter (Ulla Jacobsson) and Zulu King Cesthwayo (Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi) is interrupted by a messenger who informs Cetshwayo of the great victory over the British earlier in the day.
The movie then shifts to the missionary station of Rorke's Drift in Natal, being used by the British army as a supply dump and hospital for their now-defeated invasion force across the border in Zululand. The commanders of the supply depot, Lieutenants John Chard (Stanley Baker) and Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine), receive news that the invasion force has been destroyed at Isandhlwana and that a huge Zulu force is advancing their way. Realising that they cannot outrun the Zulu army, especially with wagonloads of wounded soldiers, the commanders decide to fortify the station, using wagons, sacks of mealie, and crates of ships biscuit, and await the Zulu assault.
As the Zulu impis approach, soldiers of the Natal Native Contingent and British settlers flee the site. Zulu sharpshooters open fire on the station from a neighbouring hill. Over the next few hours, the main Zulu body launches wave after wave of attacks, which are repulsed, though the attackers succeed in setting fire to the hospital, leading to intense fighting between British patients and Zulu warriors as the latter try to escape the flames. Zulu attacks continue into the night, finally forcing the British to withdraw into a tiny redoubt built from supply crates. During a lull in the fighting, British troops emerge from the redoubt and using a co-ordinated manoeuvre, unleash a devastating hail of fire against a fresh Zulu attack.
Having sustained horrific casualties, the Zulus withdraw several hundred yards and begin singing a frightening war chant; the British respond by singing "Men of Harlech". After a last failed assault, the Zulus withdraw and sing a song to honour the bravery of the British defenders, and leave. The film ends with a narration by Burton, listing defenders who received the Victoria Cross. (Eleven were awarded for the actual fighting at Rorke's Drift, the most ever for a regiment in a single battle in British military history).
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