San Francisco Chronicle
Although it would take much more than a 95 minute documentary for true enlightenment, Letters to Baghdad also helps us understand the complex political situation stemming from the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.
It does serve as a handy summary for those who want a cinematic introduction to Bell’s sprawling, singular story.
Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum’s elegant mix of voiceover, archive footage and talking heads lets “the female Lawrence of Arabia” largely speak for herself, illuminating the pivotal role she played in shaping today’s Middle East.
Los Angeles Times
The film elegantly unfolds as if someone had peeked inside a steerage trunk and thumbed through the brittle pages of scrapbooks showing sailboats on the Euphrates and hieroglyphics in the moonlight.
It provides a sturdy, often exhilarating bridge between the present and a past that not only isn’t distant, but isn’t even really past.
The bottom line is that Oelbaum and Krayenbühl have fleshed out a complex, fascinating figure.
Time Out London
The film also touches on Bell’s work for the British government, drawing up the boundaries of Iraq after WWI – which was to have consequences still felt today.
Unfortunately, the doc is devoid of any real context, including how work such as Bell’s helped lead to the quagmire that has unsettled the region for decades.
The New York Times
There’s much historical material here that’s of high interest, and Ms. Swinton’s performance of Bell’s letters convey Bell’s skills as a writer, but the movie is ultimately too conceptually labored for its own good — or that of its subject.
It’s a disorganized onslaught of primary source material that doesn’t so much shed light as it does simply exist.