IC Films 128 Minutes PG-13
This film should have been better. It feels more like a pompous travelogue than an interesting chronicle of Gertrude Bell's life. She was a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, and political attaché for the British Empire at the dawn of the twentieth century.
There is an abundance of beautiful scenery in the Arabian Desert as this becomes a poor man’s Lawrence of Arabia. Gertrude was blessed and cursed with intelligence as well as beauty at at time when women were considered second class citizens. She also exhibits a bravery equal to any man.
Nicole Kidman puts up a good front as Gertrude. She tries to show some emotion and intensity while delivering pap stupid dialogue given written and directed by Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man). In a Tehran market she says, “Look at the colors. So pretty!” And while falling in love with British embassy official Henry Codogan (James Franco) they trade this bit of pablum, She: “Did you just call me Gertrude?” He:“And did you just call me Henry?” She: “Shhh. The walls have ears.” Franco speaks entirely in whispers. Someone must have imagined that would make him sound more interesting and sexy. It didn’t.
Werner Herzog even stoops to using stock techniques like time lapse images of nature to portray the passage of time and plots travel with lines on an old-time map. We were tempted to call the whole thing off when Kidman was forced to deliver this line on learning of Franco’s death, “My heart belongs to no one now but the desert.” It’s all very melodramatic.
Damian Lewis comes aboard as another love interest, playing British official Col. Charles Doughty-Wylie. Again, his character is so transparently one dimensional, we could tell you what he was angling towards from his first appearance on screen.
As the story plods along from one Bedouin tribe to another, it’s the camels that look the most emotionally involved in their roles. Robert Pattinson, as T.E. Lawrence, yes that Lawrence of Arabia, gets to don a keffiyeh and act like a smart aleck. This is yet another chance for Gertrude to almost love again while carrying the torch for Henry (Franco).
Even Winston Churchill has a part in the narrative as Gertrude helps him carve the map of the Middle East to serve Britain’s political and commercial interests. Gertrude Bell’s story is fascinating and deserves to get a big screen treatment. Unfortunately this is not the movie that does justice to her influence. This movie was made in 2015 and seeing it now proves why it was on the shelf so long. Sitting through two hours of Queen of the Desert feels like trying to run through sand.