Queen of the Desert (2015)

PG-13   |    |  Adventure, Biography, Drama

Queen of the Desert (2015) Poster

A chronicle of Gertrude Bell's life, a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, and political attaché for the British Empire at the dawn of the twentieth century.

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  • Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory at an event for Queen of the Desert (2015)
  • Nicole Kidman in Queen of the Desert (2015)
  • Nicole Kidman in Queen of the Desert (2015)
  • Werner Herzog at an event for Queen of the Desert (2015)
  • Nicole Kidman in Queen of the Desert (2015)
  • Nicole Kidman in Queen of the Desert (2015)

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6 June 2017 | emuir-1
| Quite enjoyable if you don't know your history and have not read the book 'Desert Queen'.
This film was an attractive costume drama which would not have been out of place on Masterpiece Theater, but anyone familiar with Gertrude Bell's achievements and who has read the book 'Desert Queen', will be disappointed at how much was left out. Yes, she was born to a wealthy family, had a brilliant mind, earned a first class degree at Oxford - even attending Oxford was a rarity for a woman at that time. She mixed in the best society being very well connected socially, and also enjoyed the company of many intellectuals of the day. Yes, she fell in love with Henry Cadogan and mourned his death for seven years. She had been prevented from marrying him by her overly possessive parents on some very flimsy grounds - he was a gambler and had no fortune, when they could have easily set up a trust fund for her which he could not touch. Her parents apparently even opened her mail to ensure that she was not being led astray. Her dutiful devotion and love for her parents may have caused her later infatuations and unrequited love for the wrong men.

Her friendship with the married Doughty Wiley was shown, as was her iffy working relationship with T. E. Lawrence who supported her while being quite catty behind her back, but her later unrequited love for Henry Fitzsimmons, who used her but refused flat out to marry her, was not. Nor was her long and very close friendship with King Faisal of Iraq, which began when he was Prince and whom she had been instrumental in supporting on the throne. As Faisal's wife and family remained in Mecca and Gertrude became his close adviser, many suspected that they were lovers.

Her years of round the world tours to get over Henry's death were left out. Eventually she began her journeys through the middle east and gained the knowledge which put her in the center of things in WWI as a source of information about the Arab tribes, and supporter and close adviser to King Faisal. She was present at the Paris Peace Conference when the winners, desperate to get their hands on the oil, divided up the middle east between them, largely reneging on the promises to allow the Arabs their own kingdom and instead installing puppet kingdoms under British and French mandates.

The film ended with a very brief meeting with Faisal and his brother Abdullah, and an epilogue about the creation of Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia where Gertrude Bell had helped define the borders and choose the rulers. But there was much more to the story. After the heady success of helping to create the modern middle eastern kingdoms, being appointed Oriental Secretary awarded the CBE, and being Faisal's right hand woman, called upon every day not only for advice, but companionship, games, tennis, Gertrude found herself becoming less and less important as her task had ended. It probably did not help that she was a woman and had trodden on quite a few toes on the way up. Men would have felt threatened by her and wives would have been jealous. She concentrated her efforts on her writing and establishing the Baghdad Museum, but her life had become empty and no doubt she felt unwanted and useless. Faisal saw less of her and spent more time in Europe 'taking the cures'. Her family fortune disappeared in the post war changing times and she was reduced to living alone if not in poverty, but 'straightened circumstances'. In 1926 she died of an overdose of sleeping pills, which was ruled an accident.

Other than leaving half the story out, the other serious flaw was the miscasting of Faisal and Abdullah and their very brief appearance at the close of the film. The two actors should have switched parts. Abdullah, the great grandson of today's King of Jordan, was short and round faced, Faisal was tall, thin, charismatic and extremely handsome. His leadership of the Arab revolt was the reason for the allied win over the Turks. From the film one would think she had only met with Faisal for one minute. Showing more of her relationship with Faisal would have perked up the film enormously.

Overall, this topic should have been a Masterpiece Theater miniseries running for at least six hours.

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