This large scale epic film is rightly based on historic deeds . Set in the Sudan , in 1884-85 , and deals with the Major General Gordon (Charlton Heston , but Burt Lancaster turned down the role) who participated in Crimea war (1854-56) and vanquished the Taeping's riots in China is assigned by Gladstone (Prime Minister and leader of Liberal party who along with Disraeli -Tory leader- forged the colonial empire) stifle Sudan's rebellious tribes ruled by the Mahdi (Laurence Olivier), nicknamed the ¨expected one¨ . The devout Christian Gordon had been governor of Khartoum for five years and he will have to dominate them but is besieged by the Arabs tribes in 1884 . The Anglo-Egyptian forces led by Major Gordon made a heroic defense during ten months against the invading Muslim army . The expedition of help commanded by Lord Wolsey and the famous Kitchener (who soon after he'd finish Anglo-Boer war and created the first concentration camp) would arrive late .
The picture has extraordinary interpretations from main actors . Charlton Heston as the thoughtful and impulsive General Charles George Gordon is top-notch and Laurence Olivier as the fanatic Muslim is awesome . Heston actually did bear a remarkable resemblance to Major General Gordon , but he was considerably taller than the real Gordon . While Laurence Olivier has an extreme make-up to incarnate the religious fanatic , Ahmed El Mahdi , ¨the Expected One¨ . The support cast is equally outstanding , thus : Ralph Richardson (as Gladstone), Nigel Green (Wolsey) , Peter Arne (Kitchener) , among others . The film was based on facts , though was really criticized for neglecting to mention the many very good reasons why Prime Minister Gladstone was reluctant to send an army into the Sudan . The colorful and shimmer cinematography by Edward Scaife is magnificent , being well reflected in desert landscapes ; it was shot in Ultra Panavision , though was later reduced for exhibition in 70mm and 35mm release prints . Production design is overwhelming , it is the best part of the film , including a giant screen originally exhibited in Cinerama venues . Battles staged by Yakima Canutt are spellbound and spectacular . Frank Cordell's musical score is rousing and impressively adjusted to historical film . The motion picture was perfectly directed by Basil Dearden , though Lewis Gilbert was attached as director at one point . The yarn will appeal to historic epic buffs and Charlton Heston fans . Rating : Very Good . Above average, well worth watching .