Queen of the Desert

Wednesday, 1 June, 2016

2 stars
Queen of the Desert scene

Born in England in 1868, Gertrude Bell spent the early decades of the twentieth century travelling across the Middle East, in what is now Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Iran, and Jordan. She was a writer, archaeologist, and explorer, and was much respected by both the British, and the peoples of the region. She also played a part in establishing latter day Iraq and Jordan.

In Queen of the Desert, trailer, the Werner Herzog (“Invincible”, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”) made depiction of her life, she is portrayed by Nicole Kidman. Bell is desperate to flee the clutches of her stifled upper class life, and leaps at the opportunity to leave, when her father (David Calder) offers to send her to stay in Tehran with her uncle, the British ambassador.

Upon arriving, Bell is soon enamoured by the free-spirited way of life in the Middle East, and sets her sights on seeing as much of the area as possible, plus meeting the local inhabitants, and their tribal leaders. She also catches the eye of several British military and diplomatic personnel, including Henry Cadogan (James Franco), and T.E. Lawrence (Robert Pattinson).

Despite the enthralling subject matter, Queen of the Desert fails to excite, and is little more than a perfunctory re-counting of Bell’s exploits in the Middle East. Kidman’s performance is competent, as is Pattinson’s small turn as Lawrence of Arabia. In the end though, audiences will find themselves uncertain as to what sort of film Herzog was trying to make.

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