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After an Egyptian army, commanded by British officers, is destroyed in a battle in the Sudan in the 1880's, the British government is in a quandary. It does not want to commit a British military force to a foreign war but they have a commitment to protect the Egyptians in Khartoum. They decide to ask General Charles "Chinese" Gordon, something of a folk hero in the Sudan as he had cleared the area of the slave trade, to arrange for the evacuation. Gordon agrees but also decides to defend the city against the forces of the Mahdi - the expected one - and tries to force the British to commit troops. Written by
Khartoum is an account of the 1885 massacre of British General Charles (Chinese) Gordon (played by Charlton Heston) and British Egyptian troops in Khartoum in the Sudan by the hard-line Muslim forces of The Mahdi (The Chosen One), played by Sir Laurence Olivier--good make-up job.
This is an even-handed job (meaning, of course, all the favorable sides of things might have been assumed to be with Gordon, but they are not)--the views of both sides of the struggle are sympathetically represented, and Gordon's vanity is not spared. Nevertheless, he clearly has heroic stature, embellished by dramatic flourishes and some historical bending. Indeed, there is substantial historical detail in the tradition of epic films, much of it basically true, but certain parts are pure fantasy. In a film like this, neither is a problem for me--after all, isn't the point of this event its sheer drama, a white man mystic hero being massacred in a lonely outpost and achieving martyrdom? And I am one who is all for the historical stuff, and a checker of detail. The cadences of the screenplay and the swirling climax are entirely appropriate and make for great entertainment. Although Gordon's conduct in handling the situation was less unobjectionable than presented here (and not to say that there were no criticisms brought to the forefront in the film), it is likely his passion for the Sudan and the Sudanese and his desire for martyrdom are not much exaggerated. One of my favorites.
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