The Nile was always there.
Long before Cairo. Long before the tombs of kings.
It was the reason for everything.
It's a little hard to grasp how far this river's been flowing.
This is the rain that fell on Abyssinia.
These are the waters, drained from Central African lakes,
that have flowed 4,000 miles to make Egypt green.
The Nile has its memories.
The story of Khartoum is a recent one, less than a century old.
That's yesterday in this part of the world.
But however far back you may go,
all the Nile's recollections have several things in common.
There's always God, for instance.
Or, if you prefer, the gods.
It seems to have been quite impossible to live beside this river
and not to have visions of eternity.
And there's always mystery. You never quite know.
You wind up with a few questions that no one can answer.
One more thing.
Why is it that everything was always so big, outsize, larger than life?
Vanity was always mixed up with vision.
And that's part of this story too.
But it's the Nile that remains the original fact.
and of course the desert.
Move up, up the Nile, leave Egypt behind and the green land,
enter the Sudan - a million square miles of desert and scrub.
It was here - out of the vast, hot, African nowhere -
that a man of the Nile, a man of vision and mystery and vanity,
rose up in the 1880s to challenge first Egypt and then the world.
He called himself the Mahdi, the Expected One,
and he gathered about him his desert tribesmen,
and he cried out for holy war.
Egypt hired an army of 10,000 men
and a professional English soldier to command them,
and sent them 1600 miles up the Nile to Khartoum
and on into the desert to destroy this man, the Mahdi.
Our history might have taken a quite different turning
had Colonel William Hicks not forgotten, if he ever knew,
the Sudan's great fact: Its immensity.
The Mahdi led him on and on...
Keep those men back! Come on, keep them back!
Get those rifles to the high ground!
Oh, men of the desert.
My lord Mohammed, blessings and peace be upon him,
commands me to speak, for I am the Mahdi, the Expected One.
I am sprung from the forehead of the family of my lord Mohammed,
blessings be upon him.
Oh, my beloveds.
Did I not promise thee a miracle would fall from heaven
from the prophet Mohammed?
And was not this so?
Ye fight a holy war against the fat, the corrupt, the sinful, and the unbelieving.
Ye fight a war to restore to a disobedient, forgetful world
the laws and commands of the prophet Mohammed,
blessings and peace be upon him whose instrument on earth I am.
Exult ye not that men are dead, since more must die tomorrow.
Oh, my beloveds.
In a vision the prophet Mohammed has instructed me.
Let mountain and desert tremble.
Let cities shudder.
And let the fat and the rich and the corrupt in far places
mark this moment and turn in fear of all those miracles to come.
And let none in all Islam from this victorious hour
believe I am other than the Expected One.
The true Mahdi.
Beloveds, it is the hour of prayer.
Explain to me. Explain to me, somebody...
Where in heaven's name is Wolseley?
Explain to me how a rabble of tribesmen, armed only with spears and swords,
- can destroy a modern army... - Not a British army, Prime Minister.
...to the last man. - An Egyptian army.
I don't care whose army. 10,000 men. 10,000!
A British officer commanding. Why did Egypt have to hire an Englishman?
- Colonel Hicks was a fool. - Clearly. A fool.
That's not the question. Why did he have to be English?
Wolseley, I have the press at my throat.
I am summoned to Scotland to explain to Her Majesty. Will you explain to me...
Mr Gladstone, Colonel Stewart, recently attached to Military Intelligence.
He's just back from Khartoum. He can explain better than I.
Colonel Stewart, sit down.
Are these bulletins from Khartoum true?
It's a month's travel from the Sudan, sir, so I left before these events took place,
- but I assume they're true. - Why?
I went to Khartoum to assess the Egyptian capacity to deal with the uprising.
- I assessed it as nil. - Military Intelligence.
There's intelligence for you. After the event, they knew all about it.
My reports were delivered to Sir Evelyn Baring in Cairo before the event.
I was aware of the reports. I just didn't believe them.
I'm Granville. The reports still don't explain to me
how a modern army could be slaughtered virtually to the last man.
Colonel Hicks and his men were fighting for wages.
The Mahdi and his men were fighting a holy war.
Also Hicks thought he was fighting an ignorant savage and he wasn't.
The Mahdi is the most extraordinary man the Sudan has ever seen.
And he knows his people. He promised them a miracle, he had to deliver it.
Even so, Colonel Stewart, the extent of the disaster...
The disaster, sir, has little to do with the loss of 10,000 men. It's their arms.
Egypt was unequal to a horde of desert tribesmen when they'd scarcely a pistol.
What'll she do now? Now that they've captured 10,000 Remington rifles,
five batteries of artillery, and very nearly five million rounds of ammunition.
And I must add: What will become of Egypt
if the Mahdi occupies Khartoum and the Khartoum arsenal?
What a jolly day you'll have with Her Majesty.
Gentlemen, let me make one thing clear: I'm sending no armies up the Nile.
You, Hartington, your imperialist friends
want any excuse to move into Central Africa.
We are discussing Egypt. We have a moral responsibility to Egypt.
A moral responsibility. We have the Suez Canal. Say it.
Egypt protects Suez. We protect Egypt.
Why in heaven's name can't Egypt protect herself?
We've just heard from Colonel Stewart. She's not up to it.
Colonel Stewart. I've no doubt he's like the rest of you.
He can see himself leading a British army 1600 miles up the Nile,
flags flying, glory for all.
I beg your pardon. Before I'd accept such a command, I'd resign my commission.
I wouldn't spend one British life to oppose the Mahdi.
- I assumed you were for intervention. - You didn't ask my opinion, sir.
Well, I want it, by heaven, if it agrees with mine.
I shall suggest to Her Majesty in Scotland tomorrow
that we shall discharge our obligations to Egypt
by evacuating all the Egyptians from Khartoum.
How, without either a British army or loss of British honour?
I shall entertain suggestions as to just how.
What's he doing now?
He's made a contract with the king of the Belgians to take over the Congo.
We can arrange that with Brussels.
Send Gordon to Khartoum.
The man who led the Chinese emperor's armies to victory carrying only a cane.
Send him to Khartoum.
- Without an army? - He doesn't need one.
Without a single British soldier he ended slavery in the Sudan.
He's a hero - to the Sudanese,
to the English, to the anti-slavery people, to the churchmen.
Send him to Khartoum and you'll be applauded from Land's End to Inverness.
And Her Majesty.
Granville, the man's a mystic.
He's an idealist with ideals strictly his own. Give him an instruction?
He treats a military order as if it were a birthday greeting.
Besides, I trust no man who consults God before he consults me.
May I speak, sir? In my opinion, General Gordon would refuse.
When he went to the Sudan as governor general and put down the slave trade
with nothing but his audacity and a few loyal lieutenants,
sir, he didn't face the Mahdi, he didn't face a holy war,
and he didn't face 10,000 Remington rifles.
If you send him to Khartoum on his own now, he'll simply fail.
What a pity.
Sir, if General Gordon accepted your proposal in the conditions of today,
my respect for him would end. He'd be the vainest man alive.
Thank you, Colonel Stewart. Now would you leave us to our deliberations?
And my congratulations on the excellence of your report.
Good day, sir.
I like that man.
Did I understand you correctly?
If we send Gordon to Khartoum - Gordon, a national hero - and he fails,
then the blame will fall on him, not on the government?
It could happen that way.
It's the most abominable proposal I have ever entertained.
Granville, the colonel had a point.
Just why would Gordon do it?
Because he's a patriot and a man of conscience.
Or perhaps the vainest man alive.
I dislike everything about this.
Worse... I distrust it.
I know nothing about this conversation.
But let me know in Balmoral what Gordon says.
Her Majesty would be so pleased.
I apologise for the secrecy, Gordon.
Let's not waste time with formalities. Sit down, please.
I can't keep the train waiting long, or there'd be curiosity. We need few words.
Granville will see you tomorrow
with a proposal so disreputable that I can have nothing to do with it publicly.
- Privately I ask you to accept it. - Why?
Because it will provide me with political comfort.
I can conceive of no commodity, sir, that could interest me less.
I'm not a free agent. I leave for the Belgian Congo within weeks.
Granville could arrange that.
Gordon, the Sudan was your child.
I don't need to inform you it's in the gravest danger.
You don't need to inform me.
Gordon, I cannot and will not send military forces up the Nile.
But I admit Khartoum cannot be left to its fate without some gesture.
- Am I the gesture? - The country knows your capacities.
You've done before alone what an army of blunderers can't do.
- What's the proposal? - That you go to the Sudan,
supervise the evacuation of Khartoum
and do what you can to leave peace and order behind.
- With what powers? - None.
Oh, Egypt will give you some ribbon or other.
And when the Mahdi floats me down the Nile,
the government will look pained
and say to Her Majesty and the churchmen and the anti-slavery people
"Well, we sent Gordon. We did the best we could."
That will be the end of Gordon, but not of Gladstone.
In a nutshell.
Well, I must say, Mr Gladstone, you're hardly a bore.
You don't bore me either, Gordon. You are illogical and insubordinate.
I know if I send you to Khartoum you'll play tricks, exceed your orders,
and in the name of some mystical necessity, apparent only to yourself,
you'll do your ingenious best to involve this government up to the hatband.
But you're in a very poor patch and you have no one to turn to but me.
Again, in a nutshell. I'll take a chance on your tricks. That's all I can say.
Oh, I'll see Sir Evelyn Baring in Cairo brings pressure on the khedive
to appoint you governor general of the Sudan.
But I cannot and will not back you up.
This must be understood. No British troops will come up the Nile.
I will not assume a British obligation to police the world.
If you can help the Sudan, your country will be grateful.
- If you can't... - My country will understand.
You'll come back safe.
Gordon... first, last, and above all, you'll come back safe.
- Do you hear me? - I hear you.
You'll need an aide. I've a good man in mind.
- Isn't such a choice my prerogative? - Not in this case.
- Oh, he'll be useful to you. - And to you.
- Well, Gordon... - All aboard!
God go with you. And I don't envy God.
- Put my luggage on board, please. - Very good, sir.
Your second in command, sir. Colonel JDH Stewart.
This is for you, General. You'll find my report in here. It'll bring you up to date.
Am I to understand that Gladstone has cursed me not only with a spy
but a subordinate who thinks he knows more than I?
I was brought here in chains, sir. I don't know what to think.
Brandy and soda, sir.
B and S? You sound as though you need one.
Thank you, sir.
Sit down. You are Gladstone's spy, aren't you?
Would it be indiscreet of me to inquire as to your instructions?
Not at all, sir. I am to report to Mr Gladstone any actions you may take
which, in my opinion, conflict with your instructions.
I am to inform you, and the government if necessary,
of any situation which, in my opinion, places you in physical danger.
And if anybody in the course of this mission must risk his life,
then I'm to do it, not you.
Apart from that, sir, I'm yours to command.
Tell me what, in your opinion, Colonel Stewart,
are the chances of my sacking you?
If they existed, sir, I'd be the first to point them out to you.
- Here's your brandy. - Cast off!
Ah! We seem to have sailed. Farewell, England.
So you and I are definitely stuck with each other.
Oh, for heaven's sake, man, sit down.
May I ask a question? If it's impertinent, I withdraw it.
Why did you let them talk you into this mission?
As is well known, I regard myself as a religious man,
and I belong to no church.
I'm an able soldier, but I abhor armies.
I've also been introduced to hundreds of women, yet I've never married.
In other words, no one talks me into anything.
- Does that answer your question? - No, sir.
Then let me suggest that my life is not an open book...
to you, to any man, least of all to myself.
With your permission, General, I think I need a turn on deck.
Stewart, send a telegram as soon as we reach Calais. Sir Evelyn Baring, Cairo.
Locate immediately whereabouts Zobeir Pasha. Signed Gordon.
That's spelt Z-o-b-e-i-r.
I expected outrageous notions from you, Gordon, but Zobeir Pasha!
Even the khedive was appalled.
I see nothing outrageous, Sir Evelyn. Zobeir's a Sudanese.
He was the most important man there. He's able, wise, has a powerful influence.
To take Zobeir with you, to give him control of the Sudan!
- Gordon, the man is a slave-trader. - Was a slave-trader.
My instructions are to evacuate Khartoum and leave some order behind. How?
Most of the chiefs loyal to the Mahdi today used to be loyal to Zobeir.
I think they'd come back to him. I cannot go to Khartoum without a plan.
- I insist on seeing Zobeir. - Why would he see you?
You not only put him out of the slave trade, you killed his son.
I must take the chance. One must always take chances.
Why is Tewfik making us wait?
Well, Sir Evelyn, when you're giving orders to sovereign princes,
you have to expect a little humiliation. It makes them feel better.
Humbly, Highness, I accept this firman as governor general of the Sudan,
and I swear to you my devoted service.
Do you understand, Gordon Pasha, that your wages will only be ú6,000 a year?
It is all I can afford.
I'll take 2,000. It's all I need.
What about a B and S?
God be with us.
Zobeir Pasha, you are well?
General Gordon goes to Khartoum as governor general for the khedive.
He pays you his compliments and he would speak with you.
This is my aide, Colonel Stewart.
We come from London, Zobeir.
My government is determined not to support Egypt in the face of the uprising
and to prevail on the khedive to relinquish control over the Sudan.
Sir Evelyn will confirm what I say.
This is unwise. There will be ruin and death and tears, and little else.
It is my government's policy.
I have no authority beyond evacuating all Egyptians from Khartoum.
I could wish otherwise,
but you have the power and the influence and the ability to oppose the Mahdi.
Will you come with me to Khartoum and accept the Sudan from my hands?
Do I receive this offer from the British government, Sir Evelyn?
My government renounces all influence over Sudanese affairs.
This is between you and General Gordon.
If I give you my word that there will be no slavery -
I regard the institution as ended -
does my attitude influence your government?
I understand. My reputation.
But what would your Christian world say
if the slaver Zobeir received ten million Sudanese
from the hands of the great Gordon Pasha?
My government would oppose you... publicly.
I would defend you... publicly.
The general will defend me.
The great Christian hero will defend Zobeir, the slaver.
Before I receive my country from your bloody hands,
I shall see it die.
You killed my son.
I executed him.
Do you have sons, Gordon Pasha?
Do you have sons?
You killed mine!
God forgive me, Zobeir.
But let the dead bury their dead.
You killed my flesh! My blood!
Get thee from my house, and may ye die in the desert untended.
May vultures consume thy flesh, sands thy blood.
Go back. Go back to London. There's too much danger, too little hope.
I'll report my views to Gladstone. I'll stand by you.
You said you had to have a plan. What can you do now?
Get up the Nile to Khartoum.
Stewart, just how far into the Sudan would you say we are?
We'll reach Berber in an hour or so.
In your report you said that the Mahdi's people wore jibbas covered with patches.
That's correct, sir.
And his main force is still beyond Khartoum?
Look there. We haven't even reached Berber.
Gordon Pasha! Gordon Pasha!
- Ali lbrahim! - Gordon Pasha!
- Gordon Pasha! - No, Ali. No.
Sheikh Ali lbrahim of the Monassir people. My friend before God.
- Ali, please. - I weep for joy.
- We are saved. We are delivered. - Delivered?
Berber is surrounded. I am cut off from my people, except by the river.
To the east, to the south, to the north.
Mohammed el-Kheir, the villain, has gone over to the Mahdi,
taking all the tribes along this shore.
We saw a band downriver. Did they get their guns from the Mahdi?
Since the terrible disaster of Hicks Pasha, it seems all have guns.
Ah, but you return, and we are saved, we are delivered.
How? I bring no army.
You will find a way, Gordon Pasha. You have always found a way.
Oh, my friends, we must drink coffee and speak of the old days.
Sir, I've prepared a telegram for London. I request that you read it.
I have an official responsibility to advise you to turn back to Cairo.
- The situation has changed. - Situations always change.
Sir, Berber is surrounded. The uprising's spread while we've travelled.
- You could be caught in a trap. - Give me a camel, I'll get out of anything.
You're a responsible spy. Send your telegram.
You're bringing these people nothing but false hopes and expectations.
There are still 13,000 Egyptians to be got out of Khartoum.
If the government had known that by now there'd be armed Mahdist tribes
400 miles north of Khartoum...
- They wouldn't have sent me. - Then you cannot proceed further.
If Her Majesty's government wants to run out publicly on the Egyptians...
Send your telegram. Get them to recall me.
- But you have to decide. They won't. - I've made my decision, Colonel Stewart.
But what is your decision?
General, when you left London your only hope was Zobeir.
So, if you've any further plan beyond vague self-confidence,
you haven't confided it to me.
Was I instructed to confide in you? I don't recall.
Will you delude the Sudanese, gull the Egyptians,
and compromise your country, just to satisfy your own vanity?
Next time I'll shoot you.
I've shot men before.
Now send your telegram!
The boat is coming!
- Look at that. - Oh! How exciting.
Everyone in Khartoum must be on the quay.
Gordon! Gordon! Gordon!
Welcome back, Gordon Pasha.
It's good to be home.
You can't see anything from down there.
Gordon Pasha will be with us shortly.
Sheikh Abdul Rahim.
Gordon Pasha will be with us shortly.
Mr Frank Power, Her Majesty's consul in Khartoum.
Also The Times correspondent. Where is he?
Gordon Pasha will be with us shortly.
- Monsieur Herbin, the French consul. - Gordon Pasha will be with us shortly.
- Khaleel, B and S. - Yes, master.
- B and S. - Thank you.
Now, master, it has been a very long time.
So you cannot expect me to remember all things without confusion.
If you had left me this Bible, it would be different. I could not have read it, but...
- Khaleel. - I am here, master.
- There's something I want you to do. - I shall do it, master.
This great Jesus Christ... Sometimes, master, I do not understand this man.
For he announced and he was very clear about it - for once he was clear -
like the lord Mohammed, blessings and peace be upon him.
But I do not understand this Jesus Christ.
For, as I remember, you told me he announced most clearly, as I said...
Khaleel, there's something I want you to do.
You have only to speak, master. Now...
He say "When a man is struck upon one cheek, he must turn the other."
Do you? Oh, no.
I must inform you, Khaleel, as delicately as possible, that I am not Jesus Christ.
Wait. Will you first find out for me where the Mahdi's camp is at present?
- Peace be with you. - Peace be with you.
Send a messenger to Mohammed Ahmed, who is called the Mahdi,
and tell him that Gordon Pasha, governor general of the Sudan, is in his camp.
He's a liar before God! He's not Gordon Pasha!
Abdullah! Abdullah! Gordon Pasha is here!
- How does he appear? - The skin is pink.
The beard is only here. It is grey.
Holy Person, we saw him yesterday in Khartoum. It is Gordon Pasha.
- How many are his soldiers? - He is alone, with one black slave.
I fear it. He makes magic.
We saw it yesterday in the streets. Kill him.
You're all so innocent.
Who makes the magic that brings him to my camp alone with one black slave?
He... or I?
Bring the great one to me.
Is it because you are an infidel, Gordon Pasha,
that I feel myself in the presence of evil?
I doubt it, Mohammed Ahmed, for you are not an infidel, but I smell evil.
I have 30,000 soldiers in my camp.
Is it because you are so brave or so foolish
that you come here alone, unarmed, with only a black slave to hold your robe?
Khaleel is not a slave, he's a free man. He comes with me out of love.
And he does not hold my robe, but a gift for you.
Years ago, I led the armies of the emperor of China at a time of great trial.
And when his enemies were crushed and his throne was again secure,
he made me this gift.
I have brought it from London for you.
It is most exquisite.
When the emperor of China ceases to be an unbeliever,
and accepts me, the Expected One, as the true Mahdi,
then I shall be happy to receive such a gift.
You will wait just outside.
Abri. Real abri.
I've had none in five years.
Your meeting with Zobeir Pasha was less than happy, I believe.
Your intelligence service has an excellence beyond my expectations.
How much you must regret having killed his son.
I executed his son. I have no regrets.
It was a necessary object lesson in my campaign against the slave trade.
And it was successful. I brought peace to the Sudan.
But since you have come back now with instructions to evacuate Khartoum,
most happily the peace of the Sudan no longer concerns you.
What a pleasure it is to negotiate with a man who knows even my instructions.
We need waste so little time in preliminaries.
What are your instructions concerning Khartoum?
I have been instructed by the prophet, blessings and peace be upon him,
to worship in the Khartoum mosque.
There are those among the Sudanese who will oppose you.
I welcome in peace all those who worship with me.
And the others?
Mohammed Ahmed, may I suggest that when first I came to the Sudan,
its body was sick, stricken with hunger and abused by war.
I cured it.
I'm not a loving man, Mohammed Ahmed,
but this land became the only thing that I have... ever loved.
I cannot, under my God... Do you understand?
I cannot leave it to the sickness and the misery in which I once found it.
I respect you, Gordon Pasha.
- I make no war on you. - Make no war on your own people.
I'll take the Egyptians back, I'll leave the Sudan to the Sudanese and be contented.
But if I'm to leave Khartoum to sickness and misery, to... death...
The Egyptians must remain in Khartoum.
I am a poor man of the desert.
But I am the Mahdi, the Expected One.
On my cheek is the mole,
between my teeth... the space.
And so that all men may know that I am the true Mahdi,
the prophet Mohammed, blessings and peace be upon him,
Do you understand?
I begin to.
Gordon Pasha, do you believe that the prophet, blessings be upon him,
has instructed me to pray only in the mosque at Khartoum?
I am to pray in the mosque at Cairo, and at Mecca, and at Baghdad,
and in the mosque at Constantinople.
He has commanded me to make holy war
until all of Islam acknowledges the purity of his biddings
and all the world trembles before me.
But all Islam must know who I am
Gordon Pasha, for tasks of such greatness
great deeds are needed.
Egypt opposes me,
and so the Egyptians must remain in Khartoum.
For I shall take it in blood.
And the streets will run in blood.
And the Nile will taste of blood for a hundred miles.
And every Egyptian will die.
Every child, woman, man -
Sudanese too - who opposes the will of my lord Mohammed, will die.
This is how it must be in Khartoum.
A great and terrible thing.
Or I shall not pray in the mosques of Cairo and Mecca and Constantinople,
nor will the world ever tremble before me.
I had thought in my lifetime that I had witnessed all things.
And you have.
You have described to me how it was an object lesson
when you slaughtered the sons of the slavers
and brought peace to the Sudan.
You have no regrets.
What is the difference, Gordon Pasha?
An infidel object lesson, or... a holy miracle?
If Khartoum is sacrificed, then all Islam will tremble and bow,
and in peace I shall proceed to all the mosques where I must pray.
And the lives of millions will be spared.
Whisper to me, Gordon Pasha.
Is there a difference?
This is how it will be?
This is how it will be.
He's back, sir.
Excellency, he has had no sleep.
You've... been to the Mahdi.
He plans to lay siege to Khartoum.
Take it by force.
To slaughter all the Egyptians,
and those Sudanese who haven't accepted him.
But there are 35,000 people in Khartoum.
Those are his purposes.
And I believe him.
The man is sincere.
He believes utterly in the divine necessity for what he's doing.
How could I have been such a stumbling fool?
I'm a man who will question anything but my own religious convictions.
The Mahdi's no different.
There's vanity for you.
I seem to have suffered from the illusion that I have a monopoly on God.
Oh, it's the failure!
There are so many things I'm not afraid of, but... to fail...
You haven't failed, sir. Who else could have found out the Mahdi's intentions?
If I'd known this in London, would I have recommended against sending an army?
How could any British government survive a massacre like this
without making some attempt to forestall it?
Get off a telegram to Cairo immediately. If the government moves on this...
The telegraph's been cut.
- Where? - Below Metemma.
- When? - Today.
Sir, Mohammed el-Kheir attacked Berber at dawn.
Sheikh Ali lbrahim escaped this morning and since then there's been no message.
We presume the city's fallen.
If so... the Nile is closed.
The evacuation... We must...
Sir, there isn't going to be any evacuation.
If they hold Berber, they've closed the Nile.
There is no alternative. Gladstone must send an army.
If the Nile is closed at Berber, we can get messengers across the desert to Debba.
- The telegraph must work there. - They can't have got that far.
Call your staff together, Stewart. We must check the food supplies.
We'll manage till help comes.
I've been an engineer all my days.
If I can't fortify a city with rivers on two sides, I should be broken to the ranks.
- Go on! - Sir.
Save Gordon! Save Gordon! Save Gordon!
Prime Minister, how many more debates can we survive? We must do something.
Gordon can get messengers out, he can get himself out.
- Prime Minister... - Who is the government? Gordon or I?
Wolseley can send a small detachment. He promises no further than Debba.
I'll make no compromises with this man.
I've distrusted him always, I do so now.
A small detachment for communication purposes only.
A gesture. A gesture.
We are in trouble.
Well, a small detachment.
But I will not turn this government to overseas adventure.
Not for all the Gordons, the sentimentalists,
the plots, the intrigues...
Save Gordon! Save Gordon! Save Gordon!
Now then, we are here.
Here's the city wall right there with your guns emplaced all along.
And this is the ditch we're digging connecting the White Nile to the Blue Nile.
When it's flooded, the city will become an island.
If the Mahdi crosses the river and attacks from here,
the ditch will stop any charge.
But you must have your guns emplaced so that their fields of fire overlap.
Then if one gun is knocked out, the next will still cover the same field.
- Do you understand? - I understand, Gordon Pasha.
I sincerely hope so, Major. Off you go.
I've been wondering, sir.
The Nile's at flood now. What happens when it falls and our ditch goes dry?
That'll be next winter. If they haven't sent an army by then, we'll be dead of old age.
I don't think the Mahdi's waiting for that.
I just saw them putting up his personal tents over the river. He's moving up.
I can have the ditch flooded in a few days.
Good. I don't think he'll attack for a while.
He'll try to tighten the siege first. Weaken us.
I want you to help me plan a giant-size raiding party.
I want to take it upcountry and bring back every head of cattle,
every measure of wheat for a hundred miles. It might have to last quite a while.
It sounds like a dangerous job, sir. I'd better do it.
- It's in the orders. - Forget the orders.
Finish your ditch. Flood it when you're ready. Meanwhile, let me have a little fun.
Stewart Pasha! Stewart Pasha!
Gordon Pasha is ten miles from the city with a convoy of grain and cattle.
A spy brings news the Mahdi is attacking him at dawn.
They're out there somewhere.
We'll make a stand while you take the cattle and grain into Khartoum.
If we divide, they'll divide. You take the cavalry, but don't let them turn you.
You must get the convoy into Khartoum. Good luck to you.
Come along, come along!
Come. Hurry, hurry.
Get your men into position! You, Ahmed! Come on!
Hurry, over there!
We can hold them here while the convoy gets away.
But keep your men low. Don't give them a target.
Dismount and get your horses down too.
Let them charge through us. Then we'll have them against the light.
Good luck, then.
Re-form! Re-form and prepare to fire!
They're coming out of the light this time.
Stand fast! Prepare to fire!
They'll come at us again from the dark. Take cover! Take cover!
Nearly 300 dead.
How much of the convoy did we lose?
You must have brought in all the loose grain and beef this side of Abyssinia.
It'll have to last us till relief comes.
This came yesterday, via Cairo and Kitchener. I've read it.
- Who's Kitchener? - A major who's at Debba with an army.
Precisely 20 men.
"You exaggerate the danger, sir."
"Suspicions exist, sir, that you've created a situation to fit your own inclinations."
"Leave Khartoum at once, sir."
"This is your last, final, ultimate order."
Obey the order, General.
Go to London. Explain to them.
You'll come back with an army.
I'll come back with an army?
They wouldn't listen to me.
If they did, they wouldn't believe me.
If they believed me, they'd keep me in England
if they had to lock me up in the Tower of London.
You're the one to go.
They'd believe you if I stayed here as a hostage.
They'd believe you because they must!
I'll give you Khaleel. He knows the route through the desert.
We've enough food here for months. The Nile's too high for the Mahdi to attack.
- You must do it. - Yes, sir.
Let's get back.
I'll take cholera, dysentery, fleas in my bed, Arabs in my hair,
but I cannot take politicians.
I wish you well, by heaven, but I don't envy you what you're up against.
Your man better stay with us until you get back.
Colonel Stewart, sir.
Say absolutely nothing, sir.
Say nothing. Your cab is there, sir.
Clear the way, please. Say nothing, sir.
Clear the way, please.
- Stewart. - Sir.
I, uh... wasn't prepared for all this excitement.
The prime minister's waiting for you.
I want you to know that he missed a vote of censure yesterday by only a few votes.
I want you to know also that I'm on General Gordon's side.
- You mean there's hope, sir? - I mean nothing of the sort.
Let's put that aside. There's one thing matters.
Did Gordon or did he not receive a direct order to return?
Could Gordon or could he not be standing there in front of me?
- He could. - Then, Colonel Stewart,
does your presence here confirm or deny Gordon's total disobedience?
- It confirms it. - It's blackmail! Blackmail.
A man - one man - in the middle of Africa is blackmailing the British government
into a course of action it wouldn't otherwise choose to take.
I don't agree, sir.
You don't agree.
Is it really blackmail when one man in a besieged desert town calls to you saying
"Allow these thousands of people to be slaughtered if you will. It's your decision,
but allow me the privilege of being slaughtered with them"?
You see, sir, if Khartoum is allowed to die,
then Gordon will die with it.
Well, it may be blackmail.
And if it is, then I'm for blackmail.
Send in Lord Wolseley.
When I think how history will record someday
that the decisions of an empire were made only by greedy businessmen,
scheming generals, and conniving politicians...
It's up the Nile for you, Wolseley.
Up the Nile to save one stubborn madman.
But let me tell you... if you do a Billy Hicks on me,
if you take a British army into Central Africa
and present me with any portion of a disaster,
then don't come back!
- Am I clear? - You are clear.
Colonel Stewart, inform General Gordon
that a British army will be sailing as quickly as possible for Cairo.
Thank you, sir.
Get me Colonel Stewart's man - Khaleel.
We didn't want to come to the palace. This is informal, but it's serious.
- General, people are afraid. - They have a right to be.
What about this relief army?
Why the hysteria? There's still enough food.
What we're short of isn't food. It's hope.
Power, you know the government, how long they take to make decisions.
You all know how many weeks it is to London and back.
It could be another month before we have word.
I'm an old friend. You believe me.
I tell you, in the bazaars I hear things. It isn't good.
What am I supposed to give them? Promises I can't keep?
Tell them lies to keep up morale?
Maybe small lies. Just a few. Little ones?
Yes, master. It is such a pleasant thing...
Khaleel, what are you doing here? Where is Colonel Stewart?
I do not know.
That place Debba by the river is the most boring...
- Khaleel! - And to be home...
Oh, yes. Major Kitchener sends his greetings.
Most interesting man, the Major Kitchener.
It's Stewart. He's sailed from England with Wolseley and 7,000 men.
They're coming! The British are coming!
I do not have the ingredients here, Gordon Pasha.
But if you will come back to the palace, I will make you a B and S.
Stand to your camels.
You! You think you're here on holiday? You think you've come to Egypt on leave?
Look at those buttons. Filthy! Look at this. Disgraceful!
What would Her Majesty say? You there, stand up!
I don't say it isn't necessary, sir.
But we've been in Egypt for six weeks now and the Nile is falling.
What I must point out is that the fall of the Nile in Khartoum
comes two months earlier than here in Cairo,
and when the Nile has fallen sufficiently, Khartoum will be defenceless.
Thank you, Colonel Stewart.
But you know as well as I do
that men who are not fully conditioned to the tropical climate cannot fight.
They'll die... by the platoon, by the company.
I agree, sir.
Couldn't you send ahead a detachment of your best-conditioned men?
Stewart... Don't be too hard on Wolseley. You haven't seen his instructions.
- I was there. He's to relieve Khartoum. - Colonel, I've seen the orders.
He's to bring out Gordon. There's no mention of Khartoum.
Wolseley knows. He's to proceed up the Nile as slowly as possible.
Oh, he'll move up to Wadi Halfa shortly, yes, but... he knows.
He's to give Gordon every chance at the last minute
- to come out by his own choice. - But Gordon won't come out.
You know it. I now know it. I'm sure that Wolseley knows it.
They've been friends always. That's why I say, don't be too hard on him.
It's the government that's unconvinced.
I can understand why you haven't told me this before. Why do you tell me now?
Because it's on the cards, Colonel, that this expedition will be too late.
Gordon should come out. There's no one to tell him but you.
- Where are they mounting them? - He does not know, Excellency.
He saw the guns arriving, that is all.
You were Gladstone's gesture last year.
This year it's Wolseley.
Sir, I've failed.
I thought I'd made it clear to them that you'd never come out. I didn't.
You probably did. Gladstone's a gambler. He's gambling.
No, they all think you should come out.
So do I.
Sir, what's the absolute limit of time we can hold out here?
I don't know.
The Mahdi's brought up the guns he captured from Hicks.
- That means he'll start a bombardment. - Mm.
- How low is the ditch? - Low.
And the news will be all over town by morning
that a steamer arrived and no army.
There'll be a panic.
- Sir, you haven't got a chance. - I haven't got a choice.
If Wolseley's orders are to save only me and not Khartoum, I'm left with no choice.
How could I leave? Tell me. How could I leave?
What purpose is served by...
If Wolseley's too late and the Mahdi attacks...
Oh, there are worse ways to die. Many.
That's the essence of it, I suppose.
Every man has a final weapon... his life.
And if he's afraid of losing it, he throws that weapon away.
That's what they can't quite grasp, that I'm not really afraid.
And that's what they must understand, isn't it?
And no one can make them understand it except me.
You must be tired.
Meet me at the dock tomorrow, early.
Good night, sir.
To run the blockade we'll armour the rails,
set up Krupp guns here, another one up forward.
We'll carry the extra fuel in a couple of luggers.
I want every European in Khartoum on this boat.
The wives, children, consuls too - Frank Power and Herbin -
and every Egyptian civilian you can stack on board. You must get them all out.
You mean... I go with them and you stay here?
Khartoum is my problem. Getting these people out is yours.
How else can I convince London that I will not leave?
- But you'll be completely alone. - It's a gesture.
Ah... Come, little lady. We'll take you back home.
Mr Gladstone must understand that I am capable of gestures too.
I don't ask you to be unafraid, simply to act unafraid.
How will you handle Khartoum when people know we're gone?
How are you going to handle Berber if Mohammed el-Kheir has heavy guns?
- We sink. - We both take our chances.
There are several letters in here:
Appeals to Her Majesty the Queen,
the Pope in Rome, the Sultan in Constantinople.
They're all for public display.
There's only one appeal that matters - Wolseley.
And through Wolseley, Gladstone.
Perhaps now you can convince him.
Get through. You get through.
Gordon Pasha, we are ready to sail.
Thank you, Hassan.
- Why didn't we go, Gordon Pasha? - Why wasn't I on the boat?
I should have gone on the boat.
This is Metemma. We'll refuel.
Beyond here the shore is held by Mahdist tribesmen,
so you'd better stretch your legs. Be your last chance.
Firewood? We have no firewood!
- Well, trees. - Trees? Do you see trees?
Oh, yes, a mile or two from the town, and Egyptians hanging...
I need fuel. Tear up the dock.
- This is all we have left? - This is all we have left.
Excellency, do not blame the superintendent.
Someone presented orders for grain, with your forged signature and seal.
- They sold it in the town for profit. - Find him. He will be executed.
For how long shall we eat?
The garrison will eat for about two weeks. The town...
- Requisition all stocks of grain. - There is little, Gordon Pasha.
All privately owned livestock - donkeys, goats, camels.
We ride beneath no more desert stars then.
And all things must end.
Take him too.
We reach Berber tomorrow.
It's the main point of blockade. We'll be attacked from both shores.
If we get through, it will be luck, discipline, surprise.
Pray for surprise.
And pray also that Mohammed el-Kheir has no heavy guns.
Can't we move any further from the shore?
I'm sorry, Stewart Pasha. We are already too close to the sandbank.
Number one... fire!
Number two... fire!
Fire at will!
They have no heavy guns. We'll make it. We'll make it!
- Salam alaikum. - Alaikum salam.
The Mahdi and I, we look at each other across the river.
We assault each other with assurance. Mostly the assurance that we're still here.
- I'm late. Forgive me. - Where is the army?
For whom do you speak, Sheikh Osman?
For myself. For the leaders of our people.
We do not come to you, Gordon Pasha, with cries and wails:
"Why did you not send us down the river beyond the fringe of danger?"
We are not of Egypt. We are Sudanese.
And this is our country. And this is our people within these walls.
When does the army come?
Good sirs, I can only tell you what I know.
I sent Stewart Pasha downriver to urge all possible haste.
It has been ten days.
He should have reached Major Kitchener in five or six.
- It should not be long. - How long?
The Nile is low, Gordon Pasha.
Bellies grow empty and men feed on fear.
You do not have this fear of death yourself, Excellency?
It's a luxury I've put behind me.
You are exceptional.
Gordon Pasha, when we accepted your protection for ourselves and our people,
the Mahdi marked our souls for damnation.
We were not afraid. We trusted you.
Did we choose correctly?
You could not do otherwise. It was against your convictions.
We now speak of life and death, not convictions.
Do you propose going over to the Mahdi?
We propose nothing. We ask "Where is the army?"
I don't know!
I am wondering, is there an army?
Don't call me a liar... I beg of you.
- Or I shall have to lock you up. - We are locked up now.
Sheikh Osman, you are Khartoum's most respected citizen.
If you leave, the city's spirit will break. It will surely fall.
And you will be responsible for its massacre.
I have no choice but to stay. I repeat, you have us locked in.
- Gordon Pasha. - Wait!
If you were given the choice, you still could not do this.
You could not leave Khartoum.
When one cannot choose, one can never know.
But you will understand, will you not, Excellency,
that there are those among us more afraid of death than yourself?
We cannot all be exceptional.
Gordon Pasha, the police... They have the man who stole the grain.
Awaan, is this true?
Firing squad, take aim!
Squad, forward march!
As governor general of the Sudan, I issue the following proclamation.
At dawn tomorrow, the city gate to the south will be opened.
It will stand open for three hours.
All inhabitants of the city who wish to leave
and seek the protection of Mohammed Ahmed, known as the Mahdi,
will be free to do so.
No hindrance will be placed in their way.
I can't believe it. When did you say the Abbas passed through?
A month ago.
An armed steamer passed Metemma a month ago and is since unreported.
General Gordon had placed all Khartoum's Europeans on board
with instructions to run the blockade.
Colonel Stewart was in command.
Are you quite sure that General Gordon wasn't on board?
General Gordon remained in Khartoum.
Sir, the Nile is falling.
He's made a public announcement, sir, that cannot be misunderstood.
He'll never leave.
Gentlemen, if you please.
We move instantly on Khartoum.
Only the camel corps is ready. You, Sir Herbert, will command.
I will move up with the main force as soon as possible.
But you will go ahead by water to Debba.
Make your formation there. Then take the desert crossing to Metemma,
there to embark for Khartoum.
Kitchener knows the route and the wells. Move, gentlemen.
Stand to your camels.
Advance in column of sections from the right.
- Did you pack the powder tightly? - Yes, Gordon Pasha.
All right then.
No, not too much sand on the fuse, man. Give it plenty of air to burn.
Now... By firing this pistol into the tinderbox,
we can set off as many fuses as we have running into it.
Come along, come along.
- Call your men in. - Over here!
Should be able to set off about 20 fuses from each tinderbox.
I'll want 400 pots. The whole approach to the city must be mined.
Yes, Gordon Pasha.
Form battle square! Take up action stations!
- The Christian soldiers are on the river. - Attack, Beloved One.
Attack now, Holy Person. There is no more time. It is the moment.
Beloved One, give me the word.
Do I make my preparations?
Send me the one who writes English words.
- Wonderful! - Gentlemen, what is this?
Excellency, from Major Kitchener, a message at last.
British soldiers have crossed the desert at Metemma. They approach on the river.
- And Stewart Pasha? - He's safe, Excellency.
The Abbas was delayed, but it is safe.
The messenger says, so you know the news is true,
"Stewart Pasha still has the ring you gave him."
Give the man money... something to eat.
The messenger from the Major Kitchener eats,
- and says "Thank you."
He is very brave. I say to the messenger
"Is it true that the Major Kitchener has big dark eyes like fires in the night?"
And he say "It's true."
That his eyes are like black daggers and before them all men tremble.
The Major Kitchener has eyes as blue as little flowers.
The man was bragging. He'd never seen Kitchener. He didn't want to say so.
That's true, master.
If he was lying, how could he know about that ring I gave Stewart Pasha?
And if the Mahdi sent me a false message, why say the soldiers are coming?
It makes no sense, Khaleel.
That is right, master.
Tell Abdullah he may make his preparations.
Then he must come to me.
Where did you get this?
The Mahdi asks you to come to his tent in peace.
A felucca awaits you at the ivory traders' dock.
I am his first khalifa, Abdullah et Taaisha.
And I remain here.
I am your hostage.
You will not regard it as a discourtesy, I hope, if I lock you in?
If I'm not back by dawn, you'll be shot.
Welcome, Gordon Pasha.
Come in peace.
How did this come to you?
It came to you with the greetings of your friend far down the river.
Sheikh Ali lbrahim of the Monassir people.
Sheikh Ali lbrahim
has been induced by my friend and great emir, Mohammed el-Kheir,
to acknowledge me as the Expected One, the true Mahdi.
He sends you assurance that, should you care to proceed down the Nile,
he will offer you safe passage. You are my guest.
Why do you invite me here now?
Because the prophet Mohammed, blessings be upon him,
has appeared to me in a vision,
and instructed me to attack Khartoum with fire and sword.
20,000 angels will precede my men into battle,
and terror will afflict and subdue my enemies
as far as Mecca and Baghdad and Constantinople.
For all will know what a great miracle has been done by my lord Mohammed.
I should prefer, Gordon Pasha, that you leave Khartoum now.
You are not my enemy.
Why should your blood sweeten the Nile?
What you're saying is this:
So long as I am in Khartoum, you dread to attack,
for a British army is close and you know it well.
The message. I sent the message.
There is no British army.
Your soldiers are in Egypt.
They play cards, drink the liquor, pursue women.
Why would you send me a false message?
Oh, it is sometimes wise, Gordon Pasha,
to provide a man with a few sunny hours of fraudulent hope,
so that when night comes,
he will have a more perfect inward vision of the truth of his hopelessness.
I sent the message.
There is no British army.
You are alone. Quite alone.
If this is true,
then what difference can it make to you if one man leaves or stays?
It is important to me.
Please explain to me the importance.
Because I am a man of mercy, and I tell you, go!
Leave in safety now!
You are not a man of mercy,
for your visions have not revealed to you what mercy is.
And so why do you do this?
- You are not my enemy. - Oh, but I am.
You should understand, Mohammed Ahmed.
We are so alike, you and I.
You would welcome death, wouldn't you, if death could be the servant of your life?
I too. If my life has a single point, it's this.
I've learned to be unafraid of death, but never to be unafraid of failure.
Lf, by the act of surrendering my life, I can bring down the world on your head,
then it's an arrangement I welcome.
Do you understand?
I'm sure you do.
If you, as a servant of your god,
must use 100,000 warriors to destroy me, a solitary servant of my god,
then you whisper to me, Mohammed Ahmed,
who will be remembered from Khartoum?
Your god or mine?
But, Gordon Pasha, why should you be remembered?
You're forgotten... already.
Is it possible you still do not believe?
I do not believe any infidel - even you, Gordon Pasha -
can face a lonely death without terror.
Is it the Englishman whose name was Frank Power?
Is it the Frenchman whose name was Herbin?
Is it not your own ring?
Do you leave Khartoum?
I cannot leave Khartoum, Mohammed Ahmed,
for I too perform miracles.
And you shall witness one.
While I may die of your miracle, you will surely die of mine.
Sir! Sir! The river!
So... here we are.
All right then, gentlemen.
Take it away!
Where is Abdullah?
I forbade it.
I forbade it...
The relief came two days late.
And for 15 years the Sudanese paid the price with pestilence and famine,
the British with shame and war.
Within months of Gordon's death, the Mahdi died.
Why, we shall never know.
Gordon rests in his beloved Sudan.
We cannot tell how long his memory will live.
But there is this:
A world with no room for the Gordons
is a world that will return to the sands.
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