Thanks to British snobbery, Michael Caine almost didn't get his big break.

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift raged for a day and a night in 1879. Barely 150 British soldiers held an isolated post against 4,000 determined Zulu warriors. It became legendary after the film Zulu was released in 1964, starring Stanley Baker and a young Michael Caine.

Born a working-class Londoner, Caine went on to become the world’s favourite cheeky Cockney, often playing rogues, womanisers and tough guys during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1963 he went up for the role of Hook, the thieving private in Zulu. However, the film’s director, Cy Enfield, suggested that the tall, dashing Caine would be better suited to playing Bromhead, the upper-class officer.

It was a suggestion that bemused some of the British crew members. To them, Caine lacked the pedigree and was thoroughly unsuited to playing someone from the upper classes. But Enfield was American. He didn’t think reflexively in terms of the British class system, and he got his way.

In Caine’s own words, “no English director would’ve cast me as an officer, I promise you, not one.”

To see for yourself how Caine transcended the boundaries of class, watch the film Zulu. And once you’ve seen it, see how the film’s version of events stacks up against reality by reading my article The Reel Story: Zulu.

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