ZULU AS A SEMINAL REFLECTION ON BRITISH IMPERIALISM AND CULTURE

Introduction


By the time of Queen Victoria?s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the British Empire was at its apex and could claim dominance over a quarter of the planets land mass. It spanned all of the continents and had one fifth of the world?s population under its control. However, with the onset of two world wars, the economic demands of administration of this vast dominion and the growing clamour for self determination, by the 1960?s it was a mere shadow of its former self. The impact of this diminution and loss of world power status on the national psyche has been a matter of great contention amongst historians and social commentators for much of the proceeding decades. Some, such as Jeffrey Richards, have stressed the apparent ease with which ?an empire that encompassed a quarter of the globe, and one that was ubiquitous in culture high and low, official and unofficial , has within a century largely vanished from the popular historical consciousness.? Simultaneously, other academics have sort to discover the less obvious ways that the trauma of loss of empire might have been registered in British culture by looking in what Wendy Webster considers ?unexpected places.?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the popularity and widespread consumption of its material, the entertainment medium has proved a consistent device for the cultural expression and dissemination of ideas of empire, both before and after its collapse. From the early 20th century comics and books extolling the virtues of and adventurism inherent in tales of British Imperialism to the constant stream of empire themed motion pictures from their widespread inauguration in the 1930?s, the affect on society of empire has been indelibly recorded. Due to its easy accessibility and widespread consumption, perhaps more than any other medium, film has both posited a view of Imperialism and concurrently reflected the cultural impact of its eventual decline. Despite the proliferation of a multitude of movies, both extolling the virtues of and in more recent decades denigrating empire and empire builders, It is only in recent years that any focused scholarly attention has been devoted to examining the impact of post imperialism on Britain, as expressed through the visual media. Academics such as Jeffrey Richards, Sheldon Hall and James Chapman have endeavored to discern the changing face of empire on celluloid. However, considering its profound content and meaningful examination of imperialism, one film in particular has received relatively scant attention considering its possible valuable contribution to the field and its enduring popularity.

Research Questions

This research project proposes, by in-depth analysis of the film Zulu (1964), to explore the revisionist shift in the perceived nature of the post imperialist world in British culture in the 1960?s. The movie?s radical re-examination of colonialism, race, gender, war, nationalism and class provide valuable insights into the social psyche of Great Britain in the middle to late 20th Century. The character and content of the film pose many questions, including: Why has a movie made nearly fifty years ago, portraying a relatively minor skirmish in military history, continued to fascinate audiences and remained so popular? Was it truly a watershed in historical cinema and in what sense? How does it differ from other historical films of the period and in particular other siege dramas such as The Alamo (1960) and Fifty Five Days at Peking (1963)? How does the movie reflect the cultural and political conditions prevalent at the time of its production? Why does it continue to divide opinion amongst scholars and film critics? What aspects differentiate it from earlier empire films? The proposed project will explore these pertinent issues, highlight the distinctive makeup of the film and elaborate on its participation towards a clearer understanding of British society in the latter half of the last century. By examination of key features including: the portrayal of the indigenous population, the British and the Boers, the course of events as depicted in the movie, the motivation behind its production, its reception by critics and the state of empire at the time of its release, it will highlight the distinctive character of the film in an evolving post imperial world.

Methodology

The primary source material of the project will be the DVD release of Zulu, with added extra?s including interviews with cast and film crew and insightful commentary by Dr Sheldon Hall and 2nd unit director Robert Porter.