Plot – The story of T. E. Lawrence, the English officer who successfully united and led the diverse, often warring, Arab tribes during World War I in order to fight the Turks.
Director – David Lean
Released – 1962
The story of T. E. Lawrence’s life is a fascinating one, with his time in Arabia partly the reason for the complicated Middle Eastern politics we have today. With the young British solder gaining the trust of the tribal Arab leaders, eventually pushing the Turks out of the area and helping the British gain ground during World War I. David Lean first wanted Marlon Brando for the part of Lawrence, but when this didn’t come to fruition the part fell to the newcomer Peter O’Toole, which today seems like fate and made him the star he remains to this day.
Lawerence is a complex role to play and a hard one to keep the audience interested in for over four hours, but O’Toole does so beautifully, cycling through practically every emotion at some point during the film. At times he’s idealistic, arrogant and bigheaded but others he’s humble and honourable. But no matter what, he’s charismatic and brilliant, drawing people to him like moths to a flame. Although surrounded by a stellar supporting cast, without a Lawrence with this much chemistry, the film wouldn’t have been the masterpiece it is today.
Surprisingly, for a film of its time, T. E. Lawrence’s supposed homosexuality was hinted at in a few different ways. This is shown in his relationship with his two young helpers Daoud and Farraj or the aftermath of an incident with Turkish Solders where it’s hinted that he was gang-raped. After this point, everyone around noticed a change in his attitude and his falling out of love with his current path. With contradicting accounts of Lawrence’s true sexuality, I believe the film handled things exactly the right way and leaving it for the audience to decide, if the film were to be made today, I can’t help but feel things would have been a lot more explicit.
Omar Sharif securing an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his first western film is a sign of how good the supporting cast was in this movie, with Lean reuniting with veterans such as Guinness, Quayle and Jack Hawkins, each bringing a wealth of experience and although today having a white actor playing a middle eastern prince wouldn’t go down well, you can help but sit back and enjoy Guinness’s delicate and subtle performance.
From the moment you see Sherif Ali (Sharif) slowing making his way towards the screen like a mirage in the desert, you know the cinematography is going to be a thing of beauty, with almost every shot practically a work of art. I found the battle sequences a particular delight to watch, transporting you along like an unstoppable sandstorm in the dunes.
This is a film that no studio would take the risk on today, There are no talking parts for women, no subplots involving a love interest and the ending isn’t necessarily a happy one, that being said Lawrence of Arabia remains one of the most beautiful and ambitious films of all time and along with Gone With The Wind, the very definition of a grand historical epic, one that’s unlikely to ever be topped.