Celebrating Great Films

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lawrence of Arabia

#41 at time of writing.

Some films belong to the director - it is the director's vision that makes them great. Some belong to the writer - the script is solid gold. This film belongs to the cinematographer. Director of Photography Freddie Young won the first of three Oscars in a row working with David Lean with this masterpiece of desolate beauty.

The music and acting style seems a little florid by modern standards, but the overall experience is too grand to be let down by such petty things. This is a true epic. Not only is it a very (and perhaps unnecessarily) long film telling a sweeping tale of flawed heroism in a wonderfully majestic setting, but the story behind the film is equally impressive.

Lawrence of Arabia

The film is based on the real T E Lawrence's arguably exaggerated autobiography "Seven Pillars of Wisdom", covering his involvement in the Arab Revolt against the Turks during World War I. At the time he was seen as a dramatic paladin, largely thanks to the theatrical efforts of photo-journalist Lowell Thomas (on whom the Jackson Bentley character is based), but this film depicts Lawrence as a strange and conflicted character - vain and modest, moral and immoral, heroic and cowardly.

Fascinatingly, this production left an unexpected legacy. King Hussein of Jordan lent an entire brigade of his Arab Legion as extras for the film, so most of the "soldiers" are played by real soldiers. Hussein frequently visited the sets and became enamored of a young British secretary, Antoinette Gardiner, who became his second wife in 1962. Their oldest son, Abdullah II King of Jordan, ascended to throne in 1999.

Lawrence himself left an unexpected legacy - when he was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident in May 1935 (age 46), one of the doctors attending to him was a young neurosurgeon, Hugh Cairns. He was so moved by the tragedy that he began a lifelong and ultimately successful campaign to make crash helmets compulsory for motorcycle riders, which has saved countless lives.

Trivia: Although nearly four hours long, this film has no women in speaking roles. I can't think of another film that features no women, can you?


  1. Rob J5:32 pm

    A type of movie that could never made today,because of the budget and the attention span of modern audiences. Even so, it remains magnificent. Like Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast At Tiffany's", Peter O'Toole as T.E Lawrence has captured a particular time and place for all eternity.

    Beg, borrow or steal. Any decent film buff should have this wonderful masterpiece in his/her collection.

  2. perhaps the most beautiful cinematography of all time!!!!!