Original film poster by Frank McCarthy
|Directed by||Basil Dearden
|Produced by||Julian Blaustein|
|Written by||Robert Ardrey|
|Narrated by||Leo Genn|
|Music by||Frank Cordell|
|Edited by||Fergus McDonell|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|9 June 1966 (World Premiere, London)|
(USA: 128 min.)
|Box office||$3 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)|
Khartoum is a 1966 film written by Robert Ardrey and directed by Basil Dearden. It stars Charlton Heston as British Gen. Charles "Chinese" Gordon and Laurence Olivier as the Mahdi (Muhammad Ahmed) with a supporting cast that includes Richard Johnson and Ralph Richardson. The film is based on historical accounts of Gordon's defence of the Sudanese city of Khartoum from the forces of the Mahdist army during the Siege of Khartoum. The opening and closing narration is spoken by Leo Genn.
Khartoum was filmed by cinematographer Ted Scaife in Technicolor and Ultra Panavision 70 and was exhibited in 70 mm Cinerama in premiere engagements. A novelization of the film's screenplay was written by Alan Caillou.
The film had its Royal World Premiere at the Casino Cinerama Theatre in the West End of London on 9 June 1966 in the presence of H.R.H. Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and the Earl of Snowdon.
In 1883, in the Sudan, a force of 10,000 poorly trained Egyptians under the command of British Col. William "Billy" Hicks (Edward Underdown) is lured into the desert and slaughtered by Muslim zealots led by Muhammad Ahmad (Laurence Olivier), a fanatic Sudanese Arab who believes he is the Mahdi, the prophesied "expected one of Mohammed." The British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (Ralph Richardson), who does not wish to send more military forces to Khartoum, is under great pressure to send military hero Major General Charles George Gordon (Charlton Heston) there to salvage the situation and restore British prestige. Gordon has strong ties to Sudan, having broken the slave trade there in the past, but Gladstone distrusts him. Gordon has a reputation for strong, if eccentric, religious beliefs and following his own judgement, regardless of his orders. Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, the British foreign secretary (Michael Hordern), knowing this, tells Gladstone that by sending Gordon to Khartoum, the British government can ignore all public pressure to send an army there, and absolve themselves of any responsibility over the area if Gordon ignores his orders. Gladstone is mildly shocked at the suggestion, but as it is popular with the public and Queen Victoria, he adopts it for the sake of expediency.
Gordon is told that his mission, to evacuate troops and civilians, is unsanctioned by the British government, which will disavow all responsibility if he fails. He is given few resources and only a single aide, Colonel J. D. H. Stewart (Richard Johnson). After an attempt to recruit former slaver Zobeir Pasha (Zia Mohyeddin) fails, Gordon and Stewart travel to Khartoum, where Gordon is hailed as the city's savior upon his arrival in February 1884. He begins organising the defences and rallying the people, despite Stewart's protests that this is not what he was sent to do.
Gordon's first act is to visit the Mahdi in his insurgent camp, accompanied by only a single servant. He gains the Mahdi's respect and, in the verbal fencing at the parley, discovers that the rebel leader intends to make an example of Khartoum by taking the city and killing all its inhabitants. The River Nile city of Khartoum lies at the confluence of the White Nile and the Blue Nile. A qualified military engineer, Gordon wastes no time upon his return in digging a ditch between the two to provide a protective moat.
In Britain, Gladstone, apprised of how desperate the situation has become, orders Gordon to leave, but, as he had feared, his command is ignored. Over the next several months, a public outcry forces Gladstone to send a relief force, but he sees to it that there is no urgency, hoping to the last that Gordon will come to his senses and save himself.
Gordon, however, has other ideas. When the waters recede in winter, drying up his moat, the small Egyptian army is finally overwhelmed by 100,000 Mahdist tribesmen. On 26 January 1885, the city falls under a massive frontal assault. Gordon himself is killed along with the entire garrison and populace of some 30,000, although the Mahdi had forbidden killing Gordon. In the end, Gordon's head is cut off, stuck on top of a long pole, and paraded about the city in triumph, contrary to the Mahdi's injunctions.
The film ends with another narration by Leo Genn explaining the aftermath. The relief column arrived two days too late.
The British withdrew from the Sudan shortly thereafter, and the Mahdi himself died six months later, but in the United Kingdom, public pressure and anger at the fate of Gordon finally forced the British to re-invade the Sudan ten years later, where they recaptured Khartoum in 1898.
- Charlton Heston as General Charles Gordon
- Laurence Olivier as Muhammad Ahmad, the Mahdi
- Richard Johnson as Col. John Stewart
- Ralph Richardson as William Ewart Gladstone, Prime Minister
- Alexander Knox as Sir Evelyn Baring, Consul-General of Egypt
- Johnny Sekka as Khaleel
- Nigel Green as General Wolseley
- Michael Hordern as Lord Granville, the British Foreign Secretary
- Peter Arne as Major Kitchener
- Hugh Williams as Lord Hartington
- Zia Mohyeddin as Zobeir Pasha
- Ralph Michael as Charles Duke
- Douglas Wilmer as Khalifa Abdullah
- Edward Underdown as William Hicks
- Alan Tilvern as Awaan
The film took a number of years to obtain finance. It was originally meant to be made with Laurence Olivier, Burt Lancaster and director Lewis Gilbert but Paramount could not find the money. Gilbert made Alfie instead.
Initially Burt Lancaster was to play General Gordon before the role was accepted by Charlton Heston. In July 1965, it was announced that Ralph Richardson and Richard Johnson would join the cast as Prime Minister Gladstone and Colonel Stewart respectively. 
"Everybody was interested and nobody doubted the subject," said writer Robert Ardrey. ""but there was strong feeling against the big picture which might gross $12,000,000 but cost $25,000,000. Frankly Khartoum is a proposition that could bust a studio if handled the wrong way."
It was the last movie filmed in Ultra Panavision until The Hateful Eight 49 years later.
Reviews for Khartoum were generally positive. Sight and Sound described the film as being "beautifully photographed lavishly mounted, intelligently acted, but ultimately dull." The Times praised the film for the screenplay.
However the Daily Telegraph and the New Statesman criticised the film for it's historical inaccuracies.
|Academy Award for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen||Robert Ardrey|
|BAFTA Award for Best British Actor||Ralph Richardson|
|BAFTA Award for Best British Art Direction (Colour)||John Howell|
- Film Producer Lists Trials in Egypt By VINCENT CANBY. New York Times (1923–Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 January 1966: 19
- "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8
- "Actor Richard Johnson dies at 87". theguardian.com. The Guardian. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
- Duiker and Spielvogel, 2015, p. 621
- Santas and others, 2014, p. 307
- Alan Caillou (2000). Khartoum. iUniverse. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
- Burton and O'Sullivan, 2009, p. 300
- "CINEMA 9 Jun 1966". archive.spectator.co.uk. The Spectator Archive. 9 June 1966. p. 18. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
- BRITAIN'S SCREEN SCENE By STEPHEN WATTSLONDON.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 15 Nov 1964: X13.
- Alex von Tunzelmann (12 November 2009). "Khartoum: blackface Olivier scrapes the bottom of some macabre barrels". theguardian.com. The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2016.
Incredibly this screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.
- Niemi, 2006, p. 35-6
- Silva, 2015, p.43
- Reid, 2006, p. 124
- Burton, 2009, p. 299
- Duiker and Spielvogel, 2015, p. 621
- Reid, 2006, p. 124
- Walker (2004). Halliwell's Film Video and DVD Guide 2004. p. 458.
- Burton, Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph, p. 300
- Burton, Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph, p. 305
- Burton, Alan and O'Sullivan, Tim. (2009). The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph. Edinburgh University Press
- Duiker, William and Spielvogel, Jackson. (2015). World History, Volume II: Since 1500. Cengage Learning
- Niemi, Robert. (2006). History in the Media. ABC Clio
- Santas, Constantine and others. (2014). The Encyclopaedia of Epic Films. Scarecrow Press
- Reid, John Howard. (2006). Cinemascope 3: Hollywood Takes the Plunge. Lulu.com
- George Batista Da Silva. (2015). Os Filmes De Charlton Heston. Clube de Autores
- Walker, John. (ed). (2004). Halliwell's Film Video & DVD Guide 2004. HarperCollins Entertainment. 19th edition