DirectorBasil Dearden
StarringCharlton Heston
Laurence Olivier
Running Time122 mins

Camel Corps

The film Khartoum marks something of the end of an era for films dealing with the empire. It is very much the last of the hagiographic hero studies of imperial figures. It charts the ill fated campaign of Charles Gordon and his attempts to evacuate the city of Khartoum before it is overrun by The Mahdi (Played by Laurence Olivier). The film holds very tightly to the mythology of the story expounded by the Victorians after his death. Whether it is historically accurate or not is a different matter, but one that is not important as you might think. The Victorian myth making machine was so powerful that in many ways it is more important than the reality itself. Charlton Heston plays the complex character of Charles Gordon who exudes the strange mixture of messianic zeal, conservativism and pomposity in abundance. As good as Charlton Heston is, it is the Mahdi who steals the show. Laurence Olivier plays a wonderfully serene and exotic islamic leader. This representation of what would traditionally have been 'the baddie' character in earlier film making attempts also demonstrates that this is very much a transitional film. The audiences (even British ones) were no longer interested in seeing the heroes vanquish the enemies. They were becoming more interested in what happened to the victims of history. Laurence Olivier's Mahdi pointed the way for future representations of minority peoples whilst Charlton Heston's looked back at previous representations of heroes. The film really is a milestone in historical film making.

The film was quite a large budget affair and so has plenty of good sets, props, extras and wonderful scenery. There is perhaps too much dialogue in places, especially as Charlton Heston tries to grapple with the complex character and attitudes of Charles Gordon - a task that I'm sure would have been insurmountable for any actor to do. Heston's attempts are as good as any that could have been expected. The actions scenes that are portrayed are really quite good, however they tend to be few and far between. This is certainly more historically accurate, but will tend to detract from the entertainment value of many who would wish to watch this film.

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by Stephen Luscombe