Guns at Batasi

Guns at Batasi is a 1964 British drama film starring Richard Attenborough, Jack Hawkins, Flora Robson, John Leyton and Mia Farrow. The film was based on the 1962 novel The Siege of Battersea by Robert Holles and was directed by John Guillermin. Although the action is set in an overseas colonial military outpost during the last days of the British Empire in East Africa, the production was made at Pinewood Studios in the United Kingdom.

Guns at Batasi
Cinema poster
Directed byJohn Guillermin
Produced byGeorge H. Brown
Written byScreenplay:
Robert Holles
Original Adaptation:
Leo Marks
Marshall Pugh
C.M. Pennington-Richards
Based onThe Siege of Battersea
1962 novel
by Robert Holles
StarringRichard Attenborough
Jack Hawkins
Flora Robson
Music byJohn Addison
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byMax Benedict
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
September 1964 (UK)
16 November 1964 (US)
Running time
103 min
CountryUnited Kingdom


A group of veteran British sergeants, headed by an ultra-correct Regimental Sergeant Major (Richard Attenborough), is caught up in the power-struggle during a coup in a recently-independent unnamed African state evocative of Kenya, as the character of RSM Lauderdale mentions that the Turkana people live in the north (their location in Kenya), the native soldiers speak amongst themselves in Kiswahili, the lingua franca of the region, and Kenya began taking steps independence in 1957 as the Mau Mau Uprising wound down. The story neatly exposes the feelings of the professional NCOs and their officers, and the inexperienced African soldiers and their officers.

When the post-colonial government is overthrown, native troops supportive of the new regime seize control of Batasi, a King's African Rifles army base, arrest the newly-appointed African commanding officer (Captain Abraham) and seize weapons. With the British NCOs cut off in the Sergeants' mess during the mutiny, the action boils down to the initiative and confusion of the griping, duty-hardened British soldiers in defending wounded Captain Abraham (Earl Cameron), and themselves, against the mutineers. The situation is further complicated by having to temporarily accommodate Miss Barker-Wise, a female British MP (Flora Robson) and Karen Eriksson, a UN secretary (Mia Farrow), the latter providing some love interest.

Eventually the minor action comes to an anti-climactic end when the country's new administration allows the senior British officers to return to the barracks at Batasi and end the siege, but not before the men orchestrate the destruction of two Bofors guns that had been trained on the mess while an hour's ultimatum counted down due to their refusal to hand over Captain Abraham to almost certain execution by firing squad.

The film concludes with the news that a new government is in power, and has restored amicable relations with the British, but one condition is that RSM Lauderdale must leave the country in disgrace after the leader of the base mutineers (who has attained influence in the new government) demands it. In the final scene, Lauderdale briefly loses his cool (the only time he has done so throughout) and angrily flings a shot glass at the wall, where, to his horror, it smashes the glass framing of the portrait of Her Majesty, his treasured centerpiece behind the bar. Regaining his composure, he then leaves and proudly strides across the ground and the ending theme (a military march) swells.

Guns of Batasi depicts an erupting new world where the so-called common man, both black and white, no longer has a clear idea of the realpolitik due to the social revolutions in a post-colonial world.


  • Richard Attenborough as Regimental Sergeant Major Lauderdale. Attenborough won a BAFTA Film Award for his performance as the R.S.M.. He is a traditional hero with an unblinking dedication to the letter of military law. In the face of attack by African troops with a Bofors gun or a showdown with the African leader of the revolt, he proves his mettle in unflinching, steely style, but he is ultimately portrayed as a man out of synch with his times, too rigid to adapt, and his actions, whilst gallant, ultimately prove futile.
  • Jack Hawkins as Colonel Deal, a traditional "old school" officer whose values are becoming anachronistic within a changing colonial world.
  • Flora Robson as Miss Barker-Wise MP, as a visiting Member of Parliament, provides a restrained performance as the shocked and confused politician caught up in the sudden turn of events. Robson's sympathetic portrayal balances the action with the political motivations. Her character states the film's theme precisely when she says to Attenborough's character: "I disapprove of their methods as I do of yours"; the character appears to share (at least in theory) the revolutionary objectives of the rebels while not understanding what means such objectives entail.
  • John Leyton as Private Wilkes
  • Mia Farrow as Karen Eriksson, United Nations secretary, provides a youthful perspective on the proceedings.
  • Cecil Parker as Fletcher
  • Errol John as Lieutenant Boniface, John plays the mutinous officer as a hard and relentless man who is acting on ideologies.
  • Graham Stark as Sergeant 'Dodger' Brown
  • Earl Cameron as Captain Abraham
  • Percy Herbert as Colour Sergeant Ben Parkin
  • David Lodge as Sergeant 'Muscles' Dunn
  • John Meillon as Sergeant 'Aussie' Drake
  • Bernard Horsfall as Sergeant 'Schoolie' Prideaux
  • Patrick Holt as Captain
  • Alan Browning as Adjutant
  • Richard Bidlake as Lieutenant
  • Horace James as Corporal Abou
  • Joseph Layode as Archibong Shaw
  • Ric Hutton as Russell



The novel was originally published in 1962.[1] It was adapted as a screenplay by Robert Holles, from an original adaptation credited to Leo Marks, Marshall Pugh, and C.M. Pennington-Richards.


The film was originally to be made by Roy and John Boulting, who wanted to make a return to drama after a series of comedies. "We think the time is ripe for us to return to the serious subject," said Roy Boulting.[2]

Roy Boulting said he intended to start filming in August 1963 at Shepperton Studios with four weeks location filming in West Africa. The budget of $1 million was to be provided by Bryanston Films and British Lion.[2] However the film would eventually instead be made by John Guillermin and 20th Century Fox.


The film, which was made in CinemaScope, was made entirely at Pinewood Studios[3] between February and April, 1964 although it was set in tropical Africa (it was made at the same time as Goldfinger). The exterior night scenes were filmed on a sound stage and opening scenes were done on Salisbury Plain.

Britt Ekland was originally cast as Karen Eriksson but quit three weeks into production.[4] The Swedish actress had just married Peter Sellers who apparently was so paranoid about her having an affair with Leyton he secretly asked his old acting friends, David Lodge and Graham Stark who were co-starring in the picture, to spy on his new wife.[5] After being quizzed nightly on the phone by Sellers about her scenes and who she was with, Ekland quit to join Sellers in Los Angeles.[5] Her role was quickly recast and completed by Farrow.[6][7] In response 20th Century Fox sued Ekland for $1.5 million; Sellers counter-sued for $4 million claiming the Fox suit caused him "mental distress and injury to his health".[8]

Three-packs-a-day smoker Jack Hawkins' voice is audibly fraying: it was almost the last film he made before surgery for throat cancer removed his vocal cords and left him with little more than a whisper.


According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $1,400,000 in film rentals to break even and made $1,845,000, meaning it made a profit.[9]


The score was recorded by the Sinfonia of London orchestra.

Home media

The DVD commentary on the making of the film is narrated by John Leyton.


  1. Books and Authors New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 01 Aug 1962: 29.
  2. OBSERVATIONS FROM A LOCAL VANTAGE POINT By A.H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 May 1963: X7.
  3. Pinewood carries on--with £9m Our own Reporter. The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 18 Feb 1964: 5.
  4. "He proposes to his wife eight times a week". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 29 July 1964. p. 15. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  5. Sikov, Ed (2011). Mr Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 9781447207146.
  6. "Actress Leaves, Filming to Halt" New York Times 25 Mar 1964: 47.
  7. Mia Farrow to Take Ekland Role in Film The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 01 Apr 1964: A11.
  8. "Sellers Asks $4 Million in Suit Against Studio" Los Angeles Times 12 May 1964: 26.
  9. Silverman, Stephen M (1988). The Fox that got away : the last days of the Zanuck dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. L. Stuart. p. 323.
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