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Queen of the Desert

Biopic of the British explorer, writer, spy and archaeologist Gertrude Bell, who traveled the Near East extensively in the beginning of the twentieth century and became instrumental in the re-shaping of the Arab world after World War I.

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It is astonishing that no one had the idea to film Gertrude Bell’s spectacular life story before. Bell (*1868) grew up as the rich daughter of a British industrialist and was one of the first women to study in Oxford and the first woman ever to graduate with the highest distinction. She was an accomplished mountaineer, spoke Persian, and travelled virtually alone, only accompanied by a few local guides in the Middle East, where she came into contact with sheiks and princes. Bell worked as a historian, an archeologist, and a British secret service agent, making an essential contribution to the reshaping of the Arab world after World War 1. Werner Herzog manages to tidy up Bell’s story in an astonishing way. The film is more akin to THE ENGLISH PATIENT than Herzog’s early, fevered dramas about megalomaniac adventurers like AGUIRRE or FITZCARRALDO. The film begins when Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman) is at home and bored after her studies, pleading to be allowed to go abroad. Her yielding father sends her to Tehran, where she discovers her love for the young player and diplomat Henry Cadogan (James Franco) and Arab culture. Following Cadogan’s tragic death Bell heads towards the Middle East. Her lifelong fascination with the desert is melodramatically presented as expressing her unfulfilled love and insatiable longing. Later on Herzog keeps a virtually respectful distance to his main character, remaining on the outside, and illustrates more of Bell’s adventures in the desert. An inaccessible coldness and seriousness encases Kidman/Bell. Robert Pattinson, who plays the very young T.E. Lawrence as an overly enthusiastic Arab lover, offers a counterbalance.

Hendrike Bake

Translation: Elinor Lewy

Credits

Original title: Queen of the Desert
USA/Marokko 2015, 125 min
Genre: Biography, Drama
Director: Werner Herzog
Author: Werner Herzog
DOP: Peter Zeitlinger
Montage: Joe Bini
Music: Klaus Badelt
Distributor: Prokino Filmverleih
Cast: Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Jenny Agutter, Robert Pattinson, Damian Lewis, Holly Earl
FSK: oA
Release: 03.09.2015

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