Fade from black to an extreme close-up on Dingane, King of the Zulu. His nose, if you want to get technical. His nose is broad and fierce. It is Shaka’s nose, and it says High Commander all over it. Every pore breathes destruction to his enemies. His nostrils flare, great holes in the sunlit mask of Dingane’s face. We can hear chanting, some kind of victory song in the background.
Pull back to a shot of the nose and eyes. Dingane’s eyes are deepset and piercing, and they jump from point to point relentlessly. Paranoid eyes. The first brother was the fiercest, but Dingane is every bit as ruthless as Shaka was. And he remembers well how Shaka died. Shaka’s death revisits him every single night. This is why Dingane has no sons. This is why, of all his brothers, only the weakling Mpande still breathes, spared not by mercy but by a reputation as a half-wit.
The eyes jump and jump and jump, reflecting images of the warriors surrounding the king. All strong men, all above average height. All loyal, too weak-willed to think of betraying Dingane. Dingane is the soul of the Zulu nation.
With growing frequency, the eyes rest on something that disturbs Dingane. Scratch that, “disturbs” is not the word. This thing, whatever it is, deeply troubles him. It scares the shit out of him. Get the actor to watch videos of Ripley facing the Aliens in those moments of absolute disgusted terror, because that’s what he needs to look like. Desperate, horrified, insane with fear that he can barely hide even now, in his hour of triumph.
“His Majesty seems troubled,” says a voice in English. Touch of echo on the last word. Troubled. The Zulu translation follows, and Dingane’s eyes narrow to inscrutable slits resting on the same frightening object. He does not answer, but we can see that a decision has been made.
Pull back to a close-up. Dingane’s mouth is set arrogantly. But now we see his chin, and the chin says it all. Shaka’s chin was proud, rock hard, jutting forward to make his enemies’ knees buckle. It was a victorious chin, smelling like napalm. His brother’s chin is laughably weak, falling away to a mousey protrusion under his full lips. What Shaka took by force of personality, Dingane will lose by making all the wrong decisions under pressure. It’s inevitable. We could end the movie with that shot of the chin. But we don’t.
Dolly back around Dingane to show what he sees from the portable throne. Tribal chanting gets louder. Fade in modern tribal music, maybe some Lisa Gerrard or Afro-Celt Sound System. Chaos in the picture now, a barrage of fast cuts roughly in sync with the drums.
The sun pours down on Mbelebele, covering the warriors with sweat. Hundreds of Zulu dance ecstatically, their every martial step a reminder - to the gods, to their king, to the party of white men in the center of the circle - of their courage and their prowess. Hide shields are lifted. Spears are struck against the shields.
Dingane sits on a throne in the center of the dancers. A score of the burliest fighters, the king’s own butho picked from thousands of candidates, surround him. In front of him are a loose group of white men, unarmed, watching the dance. Their guns are piled on the hill outside the “sacred circle”, and a single white man watches over them nervously.
In the middle of the white group is a tall man, Piet Retief. His face is shaded by a broad-brimmed hat, a reminder of his humble status as a simple farmer, one of the people. But the others all take their orders from him. He is, after all, the father of the Great Trek, and one of the most influential Afrikaaners in this desolate land. He has led his people from the Cape Colony into the heart of Zulu land. He has bargained and beaten every chief he encountered. And if bargaining didn’t work, there were always guns.
Sekonyela had known about guns. He had known they could be beaten with spears in the hands of clever warriors, and the guns could be taken and used against their makers. But Sekonyela didn’t know about handcuffs. Now he knew. Being forced to give away seven hundred head of cattle and all of your guns will teach you to stay away from handcuffs.
Retief watches the dancers, knowing Dingane is as beaten as Sekonyela. There is nothing left to fear from these people. Shaka is dead, and without his spirit the Zulu have lost their power. Retief spares little thought for Dingane, a frightened and vulgar king who has just signed away every acre of land from the Tugela to the Umzimvubu, including Port Natal. The fact that Dingane has no legal authority over Port Natal means nothing to Retief. He watches the Zulu dance their little dance.
Dingane watches Retief. Retief watches the dancers. A young Afrikaaner watches the guns and wishes the sun would go away.
The dance comes to a frenzied climax. All the warriors have lifted their spears and shields high, rattling them to end the ritual. Dingane stands, opens his mouth.
“Seize the wizards!” he shouts. Retief spins, mouth open wide. His men stiffen for combat instantly, but the guns are all out there on the hillside, with one young man watching over them. The Zulu fall upon them like a cloud of harpies, hundreds of spears pushing them none too tenderly into a close circle. Resistance is not only futile, but inconceivable. These men are doomed.
“Take them to Matiwane’s Kop,” Dingane orders. They will be put to death on the hill where Dingane executed Matiwane. Tonight, every available Zulu warrior will move west to the Boer laagers by the Tugela River. The invaders will be exterminated. Dingane feels a moment of worry over the document he signed, giving all that land to Retief. But the man is as good as dead, and the document will be buried with him. Dingane feels the ghost of Shaka celebrating his victory with him, and he can barely control the urge to whoop as his lieutenants and counsellors gather around him, awaiting his orders.
It’s the 6th of February, 1838. In less than a year, Blood River will be named for the spilling life force of thousands of Zulu warriors. A year from now, Dingane will be dead, and the Afrikaaners will rule the land, and this wild country will have been changed forever. But we’ll get to that shortly.
Oh, yes. The guy who was watching the guns? He got away. Did you think I was making this stuff up?