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Shaka Zulu

By Bret Fetzer

This sweeping miniseries from 1983 captures the rise and fall of an African emperor. Shaka Zulu begins following a British expedition sent to bargain with the fearsome Zulu army assembling on the outer edges of the British colonies in South Africa. Led by Lt. Francis Farewell (The Day of the Jackal, A Bridge Too Far), the expedition hopes to bamboozle a superstitious primitive, but their arrogance gets taken down a notch by a cunning and ruthless warlord who has unified vast territories through a combination of political charisma and military discipline.

At this point, the focus shifts to how Shaka (the riveting Henry Cele), king of the Zulus, rose from a brutal childhood to royal grandeur--a semi-mythological tale filled with family strife, political intrigue, witchcraft, and bloody warfare. Powerful performances by Cele and Dudu Mikhize (as Shaka's iron-willed mother, Nandi) give this sprawling epic the drive and emotional scope of a Shakespearean drama. Shaka Zulu also draws sneaky parallels between the Zulu and British empires, often to sharp satirical effect. Full of richly conceived characters and compelling political maneuvering, this eight-hour series brings faraway history to living, breathing life. Also featuring Christopher Lee (whose always-steady career exploded at age 79 with juicy roles in The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars: Episode II, Attack of the Clones).

 

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TV TIDBITS

Aired: 1983

Cast: Edward Fox, Robert Powell, Trevor Howard, Christopher Lee, Fiona Fullerton, Henry Cele

Network: PBS

Genre: Miniseries

Theme song

Image courtesy of PBS


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