After the huge commercial and artistic success of ‘ The Bridge on the River Kwai ‘, director David Lean began his extraordinary journey towards making another epic feature film. This time the Brit moved from the Indochina jungle to the Saudi Arabian desert and the Second World War turned into the First World War. He also introduced the remarkable T.E. Lawrence, a British officer who worked for the Colonial Army in the Middle East. When the United Kingdom finds itself in a conflict with Turkey, Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is seconded to the Court of the Saudi Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) as an observer and adviser. This is the place where the young officer’s life would change. Along the way he meets Sherif Ali ( Omar Sharif) and Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), the leader of the powerful Arab Howeitat tribe, it’s with their help that Lawrence manages to unite the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian desert and leads them to a long and victorious fight against the Turks. His adventure begins with a bang; Lawrence races through the desert and the unfamiliar territory is captured incredibly well on the screen. I loved every minute of it.
“The historical accuracy of the film, and particularly its portrayal of Lawrence himself, had been called into question by many scholars. Most of the characters are either real or based on real ones to varying degrees”. Also some scenes were fictionalized for film purposes. However, David Lean, didn’t interfere in historians’ discussion about Lawrence, neither did he make any moral or political assessments of the famous British officer. In his eye, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ was the story of a man whose ambitions, egoism and adventurous spirit pushed him to do unthinkable and heroic things. It’s also a story of the Arabian desert where a European meets with a foreign and fascinating culture.
The monumental, close to four hours, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ repeated the success of Lean’s previous work of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’. For the second time David Lean won an Oscar for Best Director, and his producer, Sam Spiegel, got his golden statuette for Best Picture. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ won 7 Oscars in 1962. However, nominated Irishman Peter O’Toole lost to Gregory Peck (‘To Kill a Mockingbird’), Omar Sharif also lost his Oscar to Ed Begley and his performance in ‘Sweet Bird of Youth’.
Peter O’Toole’s portrayal of Lawrence was, and still is, the most memorable performances in film history. What interested me more was that Albert Finney, at the time a virtual unknown, was Lean’s first choice to play Lawrence, however, Finney thought that the film wouldn’t be successful so he dropped out. Also Marlon Brando, Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were briefly considered before O’Toole was cast. I have to admit I can’t imagine Brando as Lawrence, can you?
One of the strongest points of the film is the cinematography by F.A.Young. It’s absolutely breathtaking. The pictures of the Arabian desert are spectacular. I appreciated it even more when I saw it on the big screen at the 56th BFI London Film Festival. It’s an incredible experience knowing that the film was beautifully restored: immaculate pictures and superb sound. An 8K scan/ 4K intermediate digital restoration was made for Blu-ray and theatrical release during 2012 by Sony Pictures to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. You will have a chance to see ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ from 23rd November. It’s worth seeing!
Written by Maggie Gogler
Pictures courtesy of Park Circus
You can read more about the film restoration on the British Film Institute website