HIDDEN GEMS: 25. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
Hidden Gems brings to light little known film gems which have somehow slipped through the collective cinematic consciousness. This week David Lean’s rarely seen Lawrence of Arabia. You’re welcome.
When David Lean’s adaptation of T.E.Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom came out, no one went to see it. Everyone said: ‘why isn’t it called the Seven Pillars of Wisdom? That’s a doozy of a title!’ It isn’t like David Lean doesn’t know how to adapt books. He made Great Expectations. Or Dickens of London to give the originally title. Set in Tatooine, Lawrence of Arabia stars Michael Fassbender’s android from Prometheus and Alien Covenant as Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence. It shows how the young British officer managed to win the trust of the Bedouin tribes – led by the finest Arabic actors Anthony Quin and Alec Guinness, along with Egyptian Omar Sharif – to engage in a tribal war against the occupying Turks.
As the war progresses, Lawrence’s single-handed determination and ascetic self-sacrifice leads to a kind of megalomania and fanaticism. It is a cunning psychological study of a man who wishes to deny his own humanity and escape himself. Within lies also the glamour and the brutality of war. At once a stirring adventure film and a keenly observed study of how a powerful personality can manipulate history to his own ends for a limited period. The politics of the situation are also sadly relevant as superpowers use the middle east as nothing more than a conveniently distant battleground and then divide the spoils with scant attention to the locals.
The imagery is beautiful – never before or since have landscapes been imbued with such meaning, beauty and terror. And the score by Maurice Jarre is so good it’s become a cliché. But the film roots itself in the Peter O’Toole’s performance. Lawrence’s sexuality, vulnerability and almost otherworldly way of seeing things come over amazingly. Which could be why it was never heard of again. Until now.