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.

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SIR EDWIN FLUFFER REMEMBERS OMAR SHARIF

HOLLYWOOD – Sir Edwin Fluffer remembers fondly Omar Sharif.

Sat what you will about Omar Sharif, but even his harshest critic would be forced to admit that he was a truly world class bridge player.

Yet there was another side to him that remained hidden from all but his closest friends. It was only a select few members of his inner circle who knew that Omar Sharif was also an Academy Award nominated actor with a career spanning well over 50 years.

I first met Omar back in the early ‘90s on the set of Mrs ‘Arris Goes To Paris when we were introduced by a young actress called Angela Lansbury. I’ll never forget his first words to me: ‘Neddy, how are you?’ he roared while shaking me firmly by the hand.

Needless to say I wasn’t the first or the last person in Hollywood to be charmed by that smile! It turned out that we shared the same dentist, and hand on heart I have to say I’ve lost count of the number of times he lent me his dentures. They were a perfect fit, and I was proud to wear them to the Golden Globes on a number of occasions.

When I pop them into that glass of water next to my bed tonight I shall shed more than a few tears for my old pal Omar Sharif.

FLUFFER’S CHRISTMAS CAROL

Having just lost three games of backgammon to Omar Sharif I thought things couldn’t get any worse… Then my agent rang to say I’d got a part in yet another version of A Christmas Carol.

Obviously I hadn’t read the script, so I imagined it would just be me sat in a leather bound armchair looking twinkly, open the book, read the first line and dissolve to a snowy olde London towne. The plan was I’d then head to the bar for a large brandy and some cheesey nibbles until they were ready to do another shot of me closing the book, smiling benevolently and saying Merry Christmas. 

 
The only trouble was bloody Dirk Bogarde had already nabbed that part so I had to pick from what was left. For a while it looked like I’d have to drag up and play Mrs Fezziwig, but luckily Jack Lemmon was quite badly hurt when I accidentally pushed him down the stairs, so I got to do Jacob Marley instead. It’s the best part in the whole thing really: because you’re a ghost you can just roll your eyes a lot, wiggle your fingers and start wailing if you forget your lines and that buys you enough time to work out what to say next. 
 
I don’t think Sophia Loren was anyone’s first choice to play Scrooge, but she was box office gold in those days and as soon as the producers saw her, the dollar signs popped in to their eyes. Sadly, it wasn’t a big hit, but releasing it right in the middle of the hottest summer on record didn’t help much.  I was just glad they didn’t use the take where I gave Mrs Cratchit the goose and she kneed me in the cranberries. God bless us every one, as dear old Tiny Tim would say! But that’s another story…