Director: Cy Endfield

Cast: Michael Caine, Stanley Baker, James Booth, Nigel Green, Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson, Ivor Emmanuel, Paul Daneman, Glynn Edwards, Neil McCarthy, Richard Burton, David Kernan, Gary Bond, Peter Gill, Patrick Magee, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Tom Gerrard, Richard Davies, Denys Graham, Dickie Owen, Dafydd Havard, Gert van den Bergh, Daniel Tshabalala, Ephraim Mbhele

On January 1879, Company B of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot, and some members of the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers were stationed at the mission at Rorkeís Drift in Natal, South Africa. Lt. Gonville Bromhead (Caine), in command of Company B, is spending his day hunting. Lt. John Chard (Baker) and his Royal Engineers are building a bridge nearby. Returning from his hunt, Bromhead snobbishly chides Chard for enlisting his men for bridge-building duty without consulting him. The officers receive news that a great battle has been fought earlier that day, nearby, at Isandhlwana, in which a British force of 1400 men was wiped out by a host of 12,000 Zulu warriors. A large Zulu contingent has been spotted approaching the mission. Although of equal rank, Chardís commission predates Bromheadís, and he assumes command. The Swedish missionaries, Reverend Otto Witt (Hawkins) and Margareta Witt (Jacobsson), fear the prospect of a Zulu attack. Reverend Witt urges the British officers to leave the mission and escort them to safety, but Chard refuses. Witt goes into a rant, telling the soldiers that death awaits them, that they are all going to die. The missionaries leave, and Chard and Bromhead must plan for the looming fight. There is no likelihood of outside help; the Regiment has been done in at Isandhlwana. Bromhead informs Chard that his new command includes 97 soldiers and mounted police fit for duty, 36 wounded and sick, and 40 men of the Natal Native Infantry. Their different military backgrounds put Chard and Bromhead at odds on how to prepare the mission for the attack. Chard is resolute, with an engineerís practical mind. Bromhead, patrician and supercilious, chafes as Chard sets the men to build a wooden fence. Colour Sgt. Frank Bourne (Green) oversees soldiers building a wall of mealie bags and biscuit boxes to enclose the area between the church and Wittís house. The Zulu warriors suddenly appear. Thousands of them line up on a rise overlooking the mission station. A sense of doom settles over the British soldiers as Zulu Prince Dabulamanzi kaMapende (Buthelezi) deploys his force of 4,500 warriors around the encampment. A line of Zulu warriors approaches the mission station. They loudly beat their assegais (long-bladed spears) against their wooden shields and their voices join in a war chant. Hundreds of warriors rush at the mission, their feet pounding the ground. Sgt. Bourne grimly orders his ranks to sequentially load, aim, and fire. The Martini-Henry rifles take a heavy toll on the attackers, but some Zulus get close enough to hurl their spears and Bromhead orders his men to fire at will. As swiftly as it began, the attack stops. The Zulu warriors withdraw, and the British realize the attack was just a feint designed to measure the strength of their defenses. Some Zulus have rifles, and they fire at the British sporadically from the distance. The next attack is mounted with more precision, the Zulus coming from several directions. Bromhead shows calm and self-discipline as he directs the desperate defense. The Zulus breach the improvised walls and fighting is hand to hand, bayonets against assegais and knives. Surgeon Maj. James Henry Reynolds (Magee) works at the improvised hospital in Wittís house, heroically treating the many soldiers brought in with horrific wounds. The Zulus attack in waves that continue past sunset into the night. They swarm over the missionís boundaries, and Chard is forced to give up part of the enclosed area. The British fight on grimly, as each wave of Zulu attack takes a toll in blood. The battle goes on until the morning of the next day. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the defenders at Rorkeís Drift, more than for any other British military action. Produced by Stanley Baker. Narration by Richard Burton.


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