English General Charles George Gordon, a devout Christian, is appointed military governor of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan by Prime Minister Gladstone. Ordered to evacuate Egyptians from the Sudan, General Gordon stays on to protect the people of Khartoum, who are under threat of being conquered by a Muslim army.
His Christian faith and military command are challenged by Mohammed Ahmed el Mahdi, "the Expected One," the head of the Muslim forces
Charlton Heston ... Gen. Charles 'Chinese' Gordon
Laurence Olivier ... The Mahdi
Richard Johnson ... Col. J.D.H. Stewart
Ralph Richardson ... William Gladstone
Alexander Knox ... Sir Evelyn Baring
Johnny Sekka ... Khaleel
Michael Hordern ... Lord Granville
Zia Mohyeddin ... Zobeir Pasha
Marne Maitland ... Sheikh Osman
Nigel Green ... Gen. Wolseley
Hugh Williams ... Lord Hartington
Xvid / MP3
This is my favorite epic, because every element of the story - religion, politics, tactics, and the clash of two brilliant personalities - is given detailed and intelligent treatment. Heston is great in this kind of role (a Christian patriarch...how very fitting), and Olivier's performance lends the Mahdi considerable nobility, even though he's obviously the "bad" guy.
Post 9/11, this is quite a strange one to watch, since it's not very different from the crisis we face today! Ah, the endless cycles of history.
But I digress. This is literate, fun, and relevant entertainment about a little-known period in history (little known to Americans, anyway). I've done some research on Gordon and the Mahdi, and from what I've learned, I can say that the film is pretty accurate. The Hollywoodized parts, such as Gordon's face-to-face meetings with the Mahdi, were added for the sake of drama. Since they work so well, I think their inclusion was actually a great idea.
The direction is admittedly flat sometimes. Heston acknowledged this once, but maintained that the film is still among his best. What really matters is that the script hums along, the acting is superb (Ralph Richardson!), and the battles are well choreographed. For whatever reason, when all's said and done, this beats the heck out of "Lawrence of Arabia" in my book. I suppose I'm just a sucker for compelling religious conflicts.
# Lewis Gilbert was attached as director at one point.
# Average Shot Length = ~5.9 seconds. Median Shot Length = ~6.2 seconds.