Guns at Batasi

Guns at Batasi

Cinema poster
Directed by John Guillermin
Produced by George H. Brown
Written by Screenplay:
Robert Holles
Original Adaptation:
Leo Marks
Marshall Pugh
C.M. Pennington-Richards
Based on The Siege of Battersea
1962 novel
by Robert Holles
Starring Richard Attenborough
Jack Hawkins
Flora Robson
Music by John Addison
Cinematography Douglas Slocombe
Edited by Max Benedict
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox
Release dates
September 1964 (UK)
16 November 1964 (US)
Running time
103 min
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Guns at Batasi is a 1964 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.


A group of veteran British sergeants, headed by an ultra-correct, order-barking Regimental Sergeant Major (Richard Attenborough), are caught between two dissident factions in an unnamed newly created African state (most likely Kenya, since the character of RSM Lauderdale mentions that the Turkana people live in the north, which is where they live in Kenya. The African soldiers also speak amongst themselves in Kiswahili, the lingua franca of the region). The story neatly exposes the feelings of the professional NCOs, their officers and the African soldiers and officers, who are still painfully new to both guns and political slogans.

When the post-colonial government of the unnamed African country is overthrown by a populist uprising, troops loyal to the new administration take over the barracks, arrest the commanding officer 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 Captain Abraham (Earl Cameron) (a wounded African officer), and themselves, against the mutineers. The mess 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 RSM and a private involve themselves in some 'action' -- the destruction of two Bofors guns Lieutenant Boniface had brought out to threaten the Sergeants' mess. The film concludes with the news that a new government is in power. The film illustrates 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.


Production notes


The novel was originally published in 1962.[1]

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 shot in CinemaScope, was made entirely at Pinewood Studios[3] (at the same time as Goldfinger) although it was set in Africa. 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.[4] Shortly after filming began, she went to Los Angeles. She had just married Peter Sellers who apparently was afraid she would have an affair with Leyton: her role was recast and completed by Farrow.[5][6] In response 20th Century Fox sued Ekland for $1.5 million; Ekland and Sellers counter-sued for $4 million claiming the Fox suit caused him "mental distress and injury to his health".[7]

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.

John Leyton provides the DVD commentary on the making of the film.

Music was recorded by the Sinfonia of London orchestra.


  1. Books and Authors New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 01 Aug 1962: 29.
  2. 1 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. "Actress Leaves, Filming to Halt" New York Times 25 Mar 1964: 47.
  6. Mia Farrow to Take Ekland Role in Film The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973) [Washington, D.C] 01 Apr 1964: A11.
  7. "Sellers Asks $4 Million in Suit Against Studio" Los Angeles Times 12 May 1964: 26.

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