In this nearly four-hour epic of T.E. Lawrence’s efforts to subdue the Turks during the Arab Revolt of the First World War, it is clear from the opening scenes that more fiction than historical fact was filling its many reels.
David Lean’s film begins with Lawrence’s end (a motorcycle crash) that hardly sets the tenor and tone for all that is to follow.
In the lead role, relative newcomer Peter O’Toole initially seems well cast, only to have his perpetual clean-shaven face and beautifully coiffed hair belie his role of leading desperate Arabs into battle on the sandy dunes of the various deserts, where—dramatically—all roads lead to Damascus.
His, at times, reluctant, but mostly admiring sidekick comes in the also nicely turned out form of Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif is the acting star of the film). Trying to rein/reign in Lawrence to their wishes is no easy task. For the British it is trout-fishing devotee General Allenby (Jack Hawkins readily maintains his stiff upper lip throughout); done up with a marvellous accent that may have fooled a few, Alec Guinness fires on all political cylinders playing Emir Faisal—defacto leader of the Arab Revolt.
Apparently, there were no women allowed in this mammoth spectacle; one can only wonder where all of the combatants came from…
Enjoy the wonderful cinematography (Freddie Young with all manner of shots and angles), enjoy the spectacles (and not a few bloodbaths), but don’t expect a history lesson.
Best of all, do savour one of Maurice Jarre’s best film scores—a sweepingly romantic theme that is as welcome as spring rain with every utterance. JWR