1 February 2013 | t_atzmueller
A highlight among 1980's mini-series
Thinking of South-Africa and the 1980s in one context, three things come to mind: apartheid, boycott and the mini-series "Shaka Zulu". I'd place this among the best mini-series of the 80's and 90's, among shows like "Shogun", "Tai-Pan", "Roots" and "North and South". "Shaka Zulu" has bit from all of them. It's got history; it's got adventure and action, it has compelling characters and story lines that keep you glued to the screen.
Shaka has most often been described as the Napoleon of Africa", which isn't incorrect, yet, I myself do like to see him as the King Arthur of South Africa. This is mainly due to having read Thomas Mofolos "Chaka Zulu" prior to having seen the TV-series. If you're the reading type, I recommend you to pick it up; it's not only a masterpiece of storytelling, but combines history and mysticism perfectly. Some of the mystic elements have made it into the series (the prophecy of Shaka's rise to power; the forging of Shaka's spear), but generally the story of the TV-show is rooted in reality.
What's to be said about the actors? Well, people like Edward Fox, Robert Powell or Fiona Fullerton are beyond dispute, doing a fine job as would be expected. Same goes by short but poignant guest-appearances by the likes of Sir Christopher Lee, Trevor Howard and Roy Dotrice (superb as a decadent King George IV) but the real kudos must go to the South African cast which, despite being mainly laymen actors, come across as convincingly and authentic as they come.
Former South-African football hero Henry Cele embodies Shaka Zulu like Helmut Berger embodied King Ludwig II of Bavaria, imposing and final. Dudu Mkize virtually steals the scenes she's in, with a mix of grace and dignity that is rare to see on modern TV or Conrad Magwaza as Shakas father Senzagakona and Gugu Nxumalo as Shakas feline-like aunt Mkabayi. Sadly, most of those actors were never seen on screen again; Cele starring in a couple of low-budget action / horror flicks (among them "The Ghost and the Darkness), same goes for Mkizi and for Magwaza (apart in a guest-appearance in a film about Albert Schweizer) and Nxumala, "Shaka Zulu" that remained their only appearance on the silver screen.
In essence, this is a (mini)-series that makes you feel sad once you've reached the final episode: sad that it's over and that there is no more. One wishes it would have gone on, that one could have seen more of the characters, their stories, and more of the rich Zulu culture and its history.
I'd give it 10/10 points if it wasn't for the abrupt, sudden ending, which comes as a bit of a let-down, so 9 from 10 will have to do.