Lawrence of Arabia (film)  

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Prince Feisal : Well, General, I will leave you. Major Lawrence doubtless has reports to make upon my people and their weakness, and the need to keep them weak in the British interest... and the French interest too, of course. We must not forget the French now...

General Allenby : [indignantly] I've told you, sir, no such treaty exists.

Prince Feisal : Yes, General, you have lied most bravely, but not convincingly. I know this treaty does exist.

T. E. Lawrence : Treaty, sir?

Prince Feisal : He does it better than you, General. But then, of course, he is almost an Arab. [Faisal exits.]

Dryden: You really don’t know?

[...]

T. E. Lawrence: No. I can guess.

Allenby: Don’t guess. Tell him.

Dryden: ...Mr. Sykes and Mr. Picot met, and they agreed that after the war, France and England would share the Turkish Empire, including Arabia. They signed an agreement, not a treaty sir. An agreement to that effect.

--Lawrence of Arabia (film)

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 epic film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. It was directed by David Lean and produced by Austrian Sam Spiegel (through his British company, Horizon Pictures), from a script by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson (Lean and Spiegel had recently completed the acclaimed film The Bridge on the River Kwai). The film stars Peter O'Toole in the title role. It is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of filmmaking. The dramatic score by Maurice Jarre, and Super Panavision 70 cinematography by Freddie Young, are also hugely acclaimed.

The film depicts Lawrence's experiences in Arabia during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and his involvement in the Arab National Council. Its themes include Lawrence's emotional struggles with violence in war (especially the conflicts between Arab tribes and the slaughter of the Turkish army), his personal identity ("Who are you?" is a recurring line throughout the film), and his divided allegiance between his native Britain and its army, and his newfound comrades within the Arabian desert tribes. The film is unusual in having no women in speaking roles.

Contents

Plot

The film is presented in two parts, divided by an intermission.

Part I

The film opens in 1935 when Lawrence is killed in a motorcycle accident. At his memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral, a reporter tries (with little success) to gain insights into this remarkable, enigmatic man from those who knew him.

The story then moves backward to the First World War, where Lawrence is a misfit British Army lieutenant, notable for his insolence and education. Over the objections of General Murray, Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau sends him to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal in his revolt against the Turks. On the journey, his Bedouin guide, Tafas, is killed by Sherif Ali for drinking from his well without permission. Lawrence later meets Colonel Brighton, who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment, and leave. Lawrence ignores Brighton's orders when he meets Faisal. His outspokenness piques the prince's interest.

Brighton advises Faisal to retreat after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes a daring surprise attack on Aqaba; its capture would provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies. The town is strongly fortified against a naval assault but only lightly defended on the landward side. He convinces Faisal to provide fifty men, led by a sceptical Sherif Ali. Teenage orphans Daud and Farraj attach themselves to Lawrence as servants. They cross the Nefud Desert, considered impassable even by the Bedouins, travelling day and night on the last stage to reach water. One of Ali's men, Gasim, succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel unnoticed during the night. When Lawrence discovers him missing, he turns back and rescues Gasim—and Sherif Ali is won over. He gives Lawrence Arab robes to wear.

Lawrence persuades Auda abu Tayi, the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, to turn against the Turks. Lawrence's scheme is almost derailed when one of Ali's men kills one of Auda's because of a blood feud. Howeitat retaliation would shatter the fragile alliance, so Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. He is then stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the very man whom he risked his own life to save in the desert, but he shoots him anyway.

The next morning, the Arabs overrun the Turkish garrison. Lawrence heads to Cairo to inform Dryden and the new commander, General Allenby, of his victory. While crossing the Sinai Desert, Daud dies when he stumbles into quicksand. Lawrence is promoted to major and given arms and money for the Arabs. He is deeply disturbed, however, confessing that he enjoyed executing Gasim, but Allenby brushes aside his qualms. He asks Allenby whether there is any basis for the Arabs' suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia. When pressed, the general states that they do not.

Part II

Lawrence launches a guerrilla war, blowing up trains and harassing the Turks at every turn. American war correspondent Jackson Bentley publicises Lawrence's exploits, making him famous. On one raid, Farraj is badly injured. Unwilling to leave him to be tortured by the enemy, Lawrence shoots him dead before fleeing.

When Lawrence scouts the enemy-held city of Deraa with Ali, he is taken, along with several Arab residents, to the Turkish Bey. Lawrence is stripped, ogled, and prodded. Then, for striking out at the Bey, he is severely flogged before being thrown into the street. The experience leaves Lawrence shaken. He returns to British headquarters in Cairo but does not fit in.

A short time later in Jerusalem, General Allenby urges him to support the "big push" on Damascus. Lawrence hesitates to return but finally relents.

Lawrence recruits an army that is motivated more by money than by the Arab cause. They sight a column of retreating Turkish soldiers who have just massacred the residents of Tafas. One of Lawrence's men is from Tafas; he demands, "No prisoners!" When Lawrence hesitates, the man charges the Turks alone and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man's battle cry; the result is a slaughter in which Lawrence himself participates. Afterwards, he regrets his actions.

Lawrence's men take Damascus ahead of Allenby's forces. The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but the desert tribesmen prove ill-suited for such a task. Despite Lawrence's efforts, they bicker constantly. Unable to maintain the public utilities, the Arabs soon abandon most of the city to the British.

Lawrence is promoted to colonel and immediately ordered back to Britain, as his usefulness to both Faisal and the British is at an end. As he leaves the city, his automobile is passed by a motorcyclist who leaves a trail of dust in his wake.

Historical accuracy

Most of the film's characters are based on real characters to varying degrees.

Some scenes were heavily fictionalised, such as the attack on Aqaba, while those dealing with the Arab Council were inaccurate, inasmuch as the council remained more or less in power in Syria until France deposed Faisal in 1920. Little background is provided on the history of the region, the First World War, and the Arab Revolt, probably because of Bolt's increased focus on Lawrence (while Wilson's draft script had a broader, more politicised version of events). The second half of the film portrayed a completely fictional depiction of Lawrence's Arab army deserting almost to a man as he moved further north. The film's timeline is frequently questionable on the Arab Revolt and World War I, as well as the geography of the Hejaz region. For instance, Bentley interviews Faisal in late 1917, after the fall of Aqaba, saying that the United States has not yet entered the war, yet the US had been in the war for several months by that time. Further, Lawrence's involvement in the Arab Revolt prior to the attack on Aqaba is completely excised, such as his involvement in the seizures of Yenbo and Wejh. The rescue and execution of Gasim is based on two separate incidents, which were conflated for dramatic reasons.

The film shows Lawrence representing the Allied cause in the Hejaz almost alone with only one British officer—Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle)—there to assist him. In fact, there were numerous British officers such as colonels Cyril Wilson, Stewart Francis Newcombe, and Pierce C. Joyce, all of whom arrived before Lawrence began serving in Arabia. In addition, there was a French military mission led by Colonel Edouard Brémond serving in the Hejaz, of which no mention is made in the film. The film shows Lawrence as the sole originator of the attacks on the Hejaz railroad. The first attacks on this began in early January 1917 led by officers such as Newcombe. The first successful attack on the Hejaz railroad with a locomotive-destroying "Garland mine" was led by Major Herbert Garland in February 1917, a month before Lawrence's first attack.

The film shows the Hashemite forces as consisting of Bedouin guerrillas, whereas in fact the core of the Hashemite forces was the regular Arab Army recruited from Ottoman Arab POWs, who wore British-style uniforms with keffiyahs and fought in conventional battles. The film makes no mention of the Sharifian Army, and leaves the viewer with the impression that the Hashemite forces were composed exclusively of Bedouin irregulars.

Representation of Lawrence

Many complaints about the film's accuracy concern the characterisation of Lawrence. The perceived problems with the portrayal begin with the differences in his physical appearance: the Template:Conv Peter O'Toole was almost Template:Conv taller than the Template:Conv man whom he played. His behaviour, however, has caused much more debate.

The screenwriters depict Lawrence as an egotist. The degree to which Lawrence sought or shunned attention is debatable, as evidenced by his use, after the war, of various assumed names. Even during the war, Lowell Thomas wrote in With Lawrence in Arabia that he could take pictures of him only by tricking him, although Lawrence did later agree to pose for several photos for Thomas's stage show. Thomas's famous comment that Lawrence "had a genius for backing into the limelight" referred to the fact that his extraordinary actions prevented him from being as private as he would have liked.Template:Citation needed Others disagree, pointing to Lawrence's own writings to support the argument that he was egotistical.

Lawrence's sexual orientation remains a controversial topic among historians. Bolt's primary source was ostensibly Seven Pillars, but the film's portrayal seems informed by Richard Aldington's Biographical Inquiry (1955), which posited Lawrence as a "pathological liar and exhibitionist", as well as homosexual. This is opposed to his portrayal in Ross as "physically and spiritually recluse". The film's depiction of Lawrence as an active participant in the attack and slaughter of the retreating Turkish columns who had committed the Tafas Massacre was disputed at the time by historians, including biographer Basil Liddell Hart, but most current biographers accept the film's portrayal of the massacre as reasonably accurate.

The film does show that Lawrence could speak and read Arabic, could quote the Quran, and was reasonably knowledgeable about the region. It barely mentions his archaeological travels from 1911 to 1914 in Syria and Arabia, however, and ignores his espionage work, including a pre-war topographical survey of the Sinai Peninsula and his attempts to negotiate the release of British prisoners at Kut in Mesopotamia in 1916.

Furthermore, in the film, Lawrence is only made aware of the Sykes–Picot Agreement very late in the story and is shown to be appalled by it, whereas the real Lawrence knew about it much earlier, while fighting alongside the Arabs.

Lawrence's biographers have had a mixed reaction towards the film. Authorised biographer Jeremy Wilson noted that the film has "undoubtedly influenced the perceptions of some subsequent biographers", such as the depiction of the film's Ali as the real Sherif Ali rather than a composite character, and also the highlighting of the Deraa incident. (In fairness to Lean and his writers, the Deraa connection was made by several Lawrence biographers, including Edward Robinson (Lawrence the Rebel) and Anthony Nutting (The Man and the Motive) before the film's release). The film's historical inaccuracies are, in Wilson's view, more troublesome than what can be allowed under normal dramatic licence. At the time, Liddell Hart publicly criticised the film, engaging Bolt in a lengthy correspondence over its portrayal of Lawrence.

Representation of other characters

The film portrays General Allenby as cynical and manipulative, with a superior attitude to Lawrence, but there is much evidence that Allenby and Lawrence respected and liked each other. Lawrence once said that Allenby was "an admiration of mine" and later that he was "physically large and confident and morally so great that the comprehension of our littleness came slow to him". The fictional Allenby's words at Lawrence's funeral in the film stand in contrast to the real Allenby's remarks upon Lawrence's death: "I have lost a good friend and a valued comrade. Lawrence was under my command, but, after acquainting him with my strategical plan, I gave him a free hand. His co-operation was marked by the utmost loyalty, and I never had anything but praise for his work, which, indeed, was invaluable throughout the campaign." Allenby also spoke highly of him numerous times and, much to Lawrence's delight, publicly endorsed the accuracy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Allenby did manipulate Lawrence during the war, but their relationship lasted for years after its end, indicating that in real life they were friendly, if not close. The Allenby family was particularly upset by the Damascus scenes, where Allenby coldly allows the town to fall into chaos as the Arab Council collapses.

Similarly, General Murray was initially sceptical of the Arab Revolt's potential, but he thought highly of Lawrence's abilities as an intelligence officer; indeed, it was largely through Lawrence's persuasion that Murray came to support the revolt. The intense dislike shown toward Lawrence in the film is in fact the opposite of Murray's real feelings, although for his part Lawrence seemed not to hold Murray in any high regard.

The depiction of Auda abu Tayi as a man interested only in loot and money is also at odds with the historical record. Auda did at first join the revolt for monetary reasons, but he quickly became a steadfast supporter of Arab independence, notably after Aqaba's capture. He refused repeated bribery attempts by the Turks (though he happily pocketed their money) and remained loyal to the revolt, going so far as to knock out his false teeth, which were Turkish made. He was present with Lawrence from the beginning of the Aqaba expedition and in fact helped plan it along with Lawrence and Prince Faisal.

Faisal was far from being the middle-aged man depicted and was in his early 30s at the time of the revolt. Faisal and Lawrence respected each other's capabilities and intelligence. They worked well together.

The reactions of those who knew Lawrence and the other characters say much about the film's veracity. The most vehement critic of its accuracy was Professor A. W. (Arnold) Lawrence, the protagonist's younger brother and literary executor, who had sold the rights to Seven Pillars of Wisdom to Spiegel for £25,000. Arnold Lawrence went on a campaign in the United States and Britain denouncing the film, famously saying, "I should not have recognised my own brother". In one pointed talk show appearance, he remarked that he had found the film "pretentious and false". He went on to say that his brother was "one of the nicest, kindest and most exhilarating people I've known. He often appeared cheerful when he was unhappy." Later, Arnold said to the New York Times, "[The film is] a psychological recipe. Take an ounce of narcissism, a pound of exhibitionism, a pint of sadism, a gallon of blood-lust and a sprinkle of other aberrations and stir well." Lowell Thomas was also critical of the portrayal of Lawrence and most of the film's characters, believing that the train attack scenes were the only reasonably accurate aspect of the film.

The criticisms were not restricted to Lawrence. The Allenby family lodged a formal complaint against Columbia about the portrayal of him. Descendants of Auda abu Tayi and the real Sherif Ali went further, suing Columbia despite the fact that the film's Ali was fictional. The Auda case went on for almost 10 years before it was dropped.

The film has its defenders. Biographer Michael Korda, author of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, offers a different opinion. The film is neither "the full story of Lawrence's life or a completely accurate account of the two years he spent fighting with the Arabs," yet Korda argues that criticising its inaccuracy "misses the point": "The object was to produce, not a faithful docudrama that would educate the audience, but a hit picture." Stephen E. Tabachnick goes further than Korda, arguing that the film's portrayal of Lawrence is "appropriate and true to the text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom". British historian of the Arab Revolt David Murphy wrote that, though the film was flawed due to various inaccuracies and omissions, "it was a truly epic movie and is rightly seen as a classic".





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