“Khartoum” by Basil Dearden

This article is also available in: Italiano

The story of the siege of Khartoum by the Mahdi and of the resistance made by Charles Gordon. One of the most famous films of English cinema, focused on the largest revolt ever made in Sudan.


1884: in el Obeid, Sudan, an army of 10,000 Anglo-Egyptian soldiers are killed by rebels loyal to Muhammad Ahmad, the newly proclaimed Mahdi. The presence of 15,000 British citizens in Khartoum will then prompt the British government to send General Gordon, hero of the Empire who had already dealt with the country, to Sudan. His mission, however, appears immediately desperate and the Englishman will do his utmost to enhance the defenses at best, managing to completely surround the city by the Nile.

An interview with the Mahdi will be full of esteem but devoid of substance, making it clear to Gordon that the end is now near. At this point the British leader will be able to do nothing but hope for help in extremis, while trying to trace the course of the river back to his fellow citizens.

British hero

The film, released in theaters in 1966, tells the fall of one of the most famous heroes of the British Empire, Charles Gordon, who finally fell during this siege. The celebration of this character will be the keystone of the whole film, transposing exactly the idea that the British had of both this battle and their role in the world. The “good” is the European who came to “civilize” in Africa, not the African from whom the land was stolen.

Gordon and the Mahdi

It must be said that the figure of the Mahdi, although not understood, is still respected throughout the film. However, even if the locals will win, the focus will never be on the natives and their motivations, continuing to be a celebration of Gordon and the Empire.

The last Mahdi victory

However, the film remains extremely interesting due to the presence of this character, similar, in many aspects, to Lalla Fatma n’Soumer. In fact, with the Algerian leader, she shared both the alleged closeness to God and an incredible military ability. The Mahdi, in Arabic “the well-guided / the messiah”, was also able to conclude his campaign as a winner. Unlike the Maghreb, he was never defeated, falling, probably due to typhus, a few days after the victory of Khartoum.

A really interesting figure who was among the first to oppose colonization in Africa. Follow us on our facebook page, Spotify, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, or on our Telegram channel. Ogni like, condivisione o supporto è ben accetto e ci aiuta a dedicarci sempre di più alla nostra passione: raccontare il Medio Oriente.

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