Lawrence Of Arabia


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Lawrence Of Arabia
"What remains true now, as it was then, is the scale and scope of the thing."

Certain films stain the memory and however hard revisionists and intellectually hygenic writers try to scrub them off, they remain, like birthmarks. David Lean's tribute to T E Lawrence's role in the Arab/Turkish conflict during the First World War is definitely one of these.

Made in the early Sixties, what remains true now, as it was then, is the scale and scope of the thing, Freddie Young's sublime cinematography, the awesome beauty of the desert landscape and Peter O'Toole's extraordinary performance. As an actor, he's the wrong shape. Lawrence was a small man; O'Toole is taller than Clint Eastwood and as skinny as a rope.

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What is striking about his portrayal of this heroic, mysterious figure, who, with the book Seven Pillars Of Wisdom, created his own legend, in a film that is aiming for splendour/grandeur/the whole big whoosh of emotional meltdown, is the depth of its characterisation. A good looking bloke on a camel, with a die-for profile and one of those voices that massages your earlobes, would have done just as well. Except what O'Toole does here is act and, for a film this size, that seems an unnecessary extension of duty, since Lawrence Of Arabia is about figures in sand and rattling good battles, where dark-skinned horsemen are blown to bits and cities fall.

You can't make jokes about Lean's legacy. It broke the rules of Hollywood, despite being British, by respecting the script (Robert Bolt), treating the subject seriously and allowing its lead actor, who made his name in theatre, the opportunity to create a man for this season, who lives and breathes contradiction.

The appearance, for the first time in a Western picture, of Omar Sharif gives the nod'n'wink to Arabian Nights romanticism and Alec Guinness, as Prince Feisal, slots neatly into his man-of-a-thousand-faces persona.

Despite everything and nothing, there will never be another. Bring hankies. There's no shame.

Reviewed on: 23 Jan 2004
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A biopic of TE Lawrence focused on role in the Arab/Turkish conflict during the First World War.
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Director: David Lean

Writer: Robert Bolt, based on Seven Pillars Of Wisdom by T E Lawrence

Starring: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quale, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Wolfit

Year: 1962

Runtime: 222 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

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