Top positive review
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"out of the vast, hot, African nowhere..."
on 4 June 2004
Though the historical events in this film took place in 1884-85, there are aspects of it that remind one of today's headlines; this is a sadly underrated film, with a fantastic cast, massive battle scenes, and a beautifully written script about an extraordinary man.
There are scenes that take "artistic license", but the film is quite accurate in its facts on General Gordon; a military genius who hated war, a deeply religious man who worked to end slavery, and who fell in love with the desolate scorching sands and the people of the Sudan.
The pairing of Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier is fabulous, and their scenes together are riveting. Heston is gaunt in this film, to closer portray the slightly built Gordon, and speaks with a subtle but excellent English accent; Olivier is the fanatic who calls himself The Mahdi ("The Expected One"), waging a holy war with his followers to destroy anyone who opposes his beliefs, with the aim of conquering the world for his fundamentalist faith.
Other wonderful performances come from Richard Johnson as Col. Stewart, Ralph Richardson as Prime Minister Gladstone, Nigel Green as Gen Wolseley, and Johnny Sekka is a delight as Gordon's servant Khaleel.
After British-led Egyptian forces are massacred by The Mahdi's insurgents, the British government asks Egypt to give up the Sudan, and General Gordon is called to evacuate the European and Egyptian civilians from the Sudan; he stays to ward off the terrorists and the siege of Khartoum takes place.
The sweeping panoramas of the desert and the Nile river are sumptuous (cinematography by Edward Scaife), and the Frank Cordell score is terrific, though it owes a bit to Maurice Jarre's music for "Lawrence of Arabia"; released 6 years earlier, "Lawrence" has some comparisons to this film, as they are both about adventurous men of courage who felt comfortable in Arab lands.
This film sparked my imagination and made me want to know more about Gordon's fascinating life and the history that surrounded him, and it is one I could watch repeatedly. Total running time is 134 minutes.
"...but there is this: A world with no room for the Gordons, is a world that will return to the sands".