Reviewed by: William Tremblay
Starring: Charleton Heston, Sir Laurence Olivier, Richard Johnson, Sir Ralph Richardson / Director: Basil Dearden
“Khartoum” is truly a grand film, on the level of “Lawrence of Arabia” in quality of photography and writing (but not in length). It’s a true story of “Chinese Gordon” who successfully eliminated the slave trade in the Sudan (Khartoum is its capital city). He returned there several years later at the behest of Prime Minister Gladstone in 1855 to evacuate the city of Egyptian citizens because of the impending siege by a fanatical Muslim leader called the Madhi, or the expected one. Gordon’s calm meeting in the Mahdi’s tent is a powerfully underplayed frightening event as he explains to Gordon how he must worship in the mosques of several European cities. The clear implication being that millions will have to die in order for this to be accomplished.
Laurence Olivier is most believable as the Mahdi. He was, after all, a chameleon actor the likes of Alec Guinness and Albert Finney. Heston is convincing as a British subject who, as a mature Christian, is unafraid of his impending death at the hands of the fanatical followers of the Mahdi. His witness to the less steadfast believers in the city was a comfort and an anchor to their weaker faith. In one quick scene while holding a small child, Gordon says “I don’t ask you to BE unafraid, only to ACT unafraid” which at first seemed hypocritical but upon reflection, it showed the wisdom of a leader requesting relative calm in the midst of almost certain tragedy.
This is a powerfully effecting film with several Christian references. The violence is relatively mild, and there is no sex or language problems. (There is one extended scene of a belly dancer, but she is modestly attired compared with today’s standard). It is an intelligent, historical and moving film and highly recommended.