Movie Review 2008 #29: Lawrence of Arabia

The epic story of Colonel T.E. Lawrence and his efforts to unite Arab opposition to Ottoman rule during World War I. Lawrence of Arabia stars Peter O’Toole,Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, and in one of his last roles, Claude Rains.


“…Lawrence of Arabia, British Beatlemania…”
Lawrence of Arabia tells the based-on-the-life-story of the title character, a complicated British officer. The movie is told in flashback, we open the movie with his death in a motorcycle accident in Britain, and then moves back in time to 1916 Cairo. Lawrence, an intelligence officer attached to the British forces there, is given a mission to discover what the Arabs are doing in their chafing under Ottoman rule.
And so the movie really begins.
Gorgeous cinematography, beautiful desert, striking vistas. Lawrence meets the head of one of the tribes, and, in a wide interpretation of his orders, proceeds to attach himself to the Arabs, helping them strike at the Turks. We get full scale on attacks, raids, attacks on train lines and other such shenangians. We see Lawrence’s relationship develop with his new friends, mainly embodied as Guinness’ Prince Feisal and Sharif’s Sherif Ali. And of course his complicated relationship with his own command, who have their own ideas of what the post WWI Middle East should look like…
Lawrence was a complicated figure both in real life and as depicted in the movie. Hero, patriot, opportunist, sadist, and a man with complicated and contradictory impulses and loyalties. The movie does an excellent job showing that Lawrence was far from a simple man. Its one of those long epic films (over three hours, and featuring the now disused trio of Overture, Entr’acte and Exit music. Its not a movie to watch, savor and enjoy without the time to do so.
Lawrence of Arabia won 7 Oscars, deservedly so. However, Peter O’Toole failed to win, losing to Gregory Peck’s depiction of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. O’Toole’s depiction of Lawrence is a bit overwrought, and while it is not a travesty that he lost the Oscar, it is a pity that he has not managed to win since, either.