Queen Of The Desert is a movie that is filled with history, culture, beautiful scenery and takes the audience on a journey of a strong female character that breaks out of the norm and commands the screen as she does the endless landscapes of the Arabian Desert.
Based on the true life story of Gertrude Bell, an adventurer, desert explorer, cartographer, writer and kingmaker – but of course the story does not begin there. At the heart of it all Queen Of The Desert is a 3 way love story between Gertrude, her two male suitors and her biggest love of all – the desert.
The movie kicks off early in the 19th century at a meeting between top-ranking British military personnel. They are in discussion about the now fallen Ottoman Empire. After some disagreement one of the men poses a question: who does know this politically diverse territory more than anyone? Cut back twelve years before this meeting and we get are introduced to Getrude at her family’s estate while she is being prepped for a huge party that will be full of potential suitors fighting for her hand in marriage. After a few unsettling encounters Gertrude decides that she is not ready for this life and begs her father to allow her to go on an adventure.
You see Gertrude is a highly educated woman and she struggles with having to dumb herself down to make the men her mother arranges for her feel comfortable around her. Her father gives in and sends her to stay with his brother at the British Embassy in Teheran. Here she meets Cadogan (James Franco), a man who teaches her Farsi and the poetry from the locals. This resonates with Gertrude instantly and she quickly begins to fall in love with Cadogan. The pairs romance is cut short when Gertrude’s father refuses to give his blessing for them to wed and she has to go back home to persuade her father to change his mind. All of a sudden tragedy hits the love lost couple and Gertrude is thrown in the depths of despair, she decides that she is done with love and embarks on a journey to explore and discover all the secrets and beauties that the desert of the Middle East and its people have to offer.
From here we follow the movies heroin as she goes from oasis to hidden cities, putting her life and that of her crew in danger in her pursuit to meet the sheiks that rule the various corners of the desert. In between these travels she meets Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damian Lewis), a Major in the British military who becomes infatuated with Gertrude despite the fact that he is already married. The pair correspond with each other while Gertrude continues her adventures and grow more and more in love with each other one letter at a time.
Now sure, this all seems like the makings for a great romance movie, an even better adventure one perhaps. Sadly for me Academy Award Nominated Director Werner Herzog misses the opportunity to nail either aspect and the story feels too scattered. There is not enough focus on either of these facets and this is unfortunate. For me I have to say I would have loved to see him delve more into the actual exploration and interactions that Gertrude embarked on with the desert and its wonderful, mysterious people. It is such a fascinating story of a uniquely strong, independent woman of her time and how she rose above the odds to find herself and write the story of her life, ultimately becoming the most welcomed foreigner till this day apparently by the people of the Middle East. The pacing is slow, but you also find the story jumping forward to fast in places and not wrapping up each chapter to my satisfaction.
What Herzog does well though is combine stunning visuals with strong camera work and a perfect soundtrack of native Arabic music and classical music to give you a real sense of wonder and sets the tone brilliantly for the era the story is set in. Kidman does a good job with her portrayal as Belle, commanding the screen and shining in all her scenes. Her co-stars also bring solid performances and there is even a effortless performance from Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence. Unfortunately this is not enough to take this story to the level that it probably deserves.
With all of that being said, it is still a wonderful story and a good movie. If you are unfamiliar with the story of Gertrude Belle then this could be just the movie to give you an informal introduction.
Last Updated: October 3, 2016
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