Making the Grades
Insolent, strangely awkward and clearly ill-suited for life as a soldier, T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O’Toole) is an anomaly in an army that prizes manly feats. Arrogant, even for an imperialistic British conqueror, the blond, blue-eyed Lawrence at one point refers to himself as a god and says he can only be killed with a golden bullet. Such is the character at the center of the epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.
Soon after his arrival in Cairo, the young British intelligence officer receives a commission from Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains), a politician and member of the Arab Bureau, to find Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) and gauge his willingness to stage an Arab revolt against the invading Turks. But Lawrence, who has an extensive knowledge of the Bedouin, does more than track down the Prince. He proposes a surprise attack on the city of Aqaba and offers to lead the assault himself if Faisal provides 50 soldiers. Among those who accompany the self-appointed British commander are the reluctant Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) and two young tag-a-longs (Michel Ray, John Dimech) who profess more devotion to Lawrence than the Arab cause.
Against the better judgment of the native inhabitants, Lawrence leads his meager brigade across the sands of the Nefud Desert. Already confident of his own invincibility, he turns back before reaching the final watering hole to rescue a lost comrade (I.S. Johar). Once Gasim is restored to the ranks, Lawrence negotiates with Auda abu (Anthony Quinn), the powerful tribal leader of the Howeitat and convinces him to join the attack on the Turkish-held port city.
Illegitimate by birth, Lawrence appears driven by a need for recognition. But as his fame grows, thanks in part to the reports of war correspondent Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy) who splashes stories of Lawrence’s escapades over the front pages of American newspapers, so does the young soldier’s relish for war. Hesitant and indecisive on one hand and driven by an almost insatiable lust for blood on the other, Lawrence is a puzzlement not only to his British superiors, whom he has long since ceased to obey, but also to the ragtag army he leads. His sexual leanings are also complicated. After being arrested, he is stroked and then flogged at the hands of a Turkish chief before being dumped in the street. The episode seems to drain the bravado from the egotistical leader. However with Damascus as the end goal, General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) must convince the now subdued and world-weary Lawrence to once again head up the rebels and storm the city.
The role of WWI war hero T.E. Lawrence offered Peter O’Toole his first major screen appearance and the film enjoyed success both critically and financially, receiving 10 Academy Award nominations and seven Oscars including Best Picture. While the movie’s violence is overall less graphic than war stories of today, a few bloody and disturbing portrayals are seen. In one, a man is executed on the spot to restore order. In another, a blood-covered character stares at the knife with which he has been stabbing his victims.
Lawrence of Arabia offers stark, windswept desert panoramas, uncluttered dialogue and colorful characters, not the least of which is the eccentric Lawrence. But despite this soldier’s unconventional presence on the war front, Lawrence remains a mystery throughout the film. As a figure, he demands attention, but it’s the kind given to an impending disaster.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Lawrence of Arabia.
Why do the rebels accept Lawrence more readily than the other British soldiers? Why does he connect more easily with them than his own superiors?
How historically correct is this depiction of T.E. Lawrence? Read about his life from his perspective in the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.Learn more about his life here: http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/lawrencete.htm