Queen of the Desert – a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

June 2, 2016 by Roz Tarszisz
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Being of a more practical than romantic bent, I watched explorer Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman) gadding about the desert  swathed nun-like in beige linen and all I could think was – slap on a hat woman or you’ll end up with a ruddy complexion. But this being art, she remains pale as a lily.

Although written by veteran writer/director Werner Herzog , who has spent decades making unconventional films, this one is pretty straight forward.

Bell was a well-connected young Englishwoman who could not be confined by the conventions of her class in the early 20th century.  Well educated and extremely bright, she chafes at staid English life so her indulgent father Hugh (David Calder) sends her to the British Embassy in Teheran where her uncle is the Consul.

Bell falls in love with the Orient and the charming young under-secretary appointed to look after her, Henry Cadogan (James Franco), falls in love with her. He teaches her Farsi and they go on long rides into the surrounding countryside.

Unfettered freedom was what Bell sought and she gets a team together and sets off to explore the desert, aided by local Fattou (Jay Abdo) who has sworn her his undying devotion. Later she meets British Consul General of the Ottoman Empire, Major Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damian Lewis) who falls passionately in love with her.

She spends a number of years swanning about the desert, meeting sheiks and gaining their respect. After the 1st World War, with her invaluable knowledge of the different sheikdoms, she helped with the carving up of the remains of the Ottoman Empire and designating boundaries.

I enjoyed it as a historical  costume drama about a remarkable woman, but it is somewhat overblown with some scenes that could be straight out of a Mills and Boon romance.  Filmed in Morocco and Jordan, outdoor scenes are breathtaking in their beauty and the musical score is stirring.

The scene where Bell realises that a world war has been raging while she has been in the desert is rather telling. She became a close friend of sweet and boyish archaeologist T. E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson) while Doughty-Wylie is all suppressed passion as the married man who adores her . But while the indefatigable Bell loves her admirers, most of her passion is for peoples of the desert.

Queen of the Desert she may have been but Mother of Camels would have done just as well.

3.5/5 Rated M Released June 2nd  128 mins

Starring Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Robert Pattinson, Damian Lewis,

Written and Directed by Werner Herzog

Cinematography Peter Zeitlinger

Composer Klaus Badelt



One Response to “Queen of the Desert – a movie review by Roz Tarszisz”
  1. Samuel Terry says:

    Herzog is a passionate director, so he will not treat his subject flippantly, but I certainly hope that he gets the character nuances just right..Everybody knows Lawrence, but in fact Ms Bell was a far more important determinant in the European-imposed structure of the ME, post WWl, than Lawrence.

    Reading her books, her diaries, one is aghast at her daring and courage – a single female alone but for her personal magnetism..and intelligence..

    Would anyone dare repeat her desert camel-mounted safaris to-day, without a supporting automobile caravan.. Doubtful.

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