Michael Caine did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lt.Gonville Bromhead in Zulu.
Michael Caine plays one of the two leaders of the British, the other being Lt. Chard played by Stanley Baker. Caine's role is the secondary lead though in that Bromhead ends up becoming the secondary commander to Chard who has the newer orders. I might as well start with the negative which is that this definitely is not Michael Caine's most assured performance to say the least. In the early scenes of the film Caine plays Bromhead as the overly British sort, but does not do this nearly as masterfully as Richard Attenborough did in Guns at Batasi. He's kind of enjoyable doing the stiff upper lip thing but he does over do it a tad bit especially because of the turn his performance takes later.
Eventually in the film, really once the action starts, Caine completely drops the stiff upper lip act quite quickly. There really is not too much of a transition rather he just kind of stops it immediately and begins to give a far more natural performance. This is of course poorly handled by Caine and it seems like he was not sure about exactly how to play Bromhead at first resulting in this somewhat odd change in character. I have to admit though since the film is as strong as it is I never really found Caine sudden drop of his early characterization all that distracting especially since how he portrays Bromhead for the rest of the film is a much more assured turn from Caine and suggests some of his best work as an actor.
Although I would say that Baker and Caine are the leads, this is a film that gives plenty of time to flesh out the supporting player, and the only thing that really makes Caine feel lead is that the film ends and begins with the discussions between Chard and Bromhead. Caine stands out well among the entire cast through his physical presence that properly alludes to why Caine became a star. Caine is very effective in the action scenes themselves adding a great deal of intensity to them through his performance throughout the course of the long battle. Caine basically makes up for his earlier awkward transition by being so good in his portrayal of the way Bromhead gets worn down by the battle.
Michael Caine's performance does suggest some inexperience on his part because of the mistaken approach he takes with the character at the beginning of the film, but to his credit I would still not describe him as bad in those scenes really. Caine importantly though does suggests his great talent as an actor though by doing his very best to overcome his missteps at the start with a tighter grasp on his character as the film progresses. This is a far from perfect performance by Michael Caine but in the end I would describe as a good one because once he does find the right place for Bromhead within the scope of the film he does bring the right sort of power to proceedings.