Remembered Today:

Ghazala

Gertrude Bell

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Review in my paper today of the film Queen of the Desert...

Werner Herzogs Queen of the Desert is gloriously, unintentionally hilarious a sort of Downton Abbey in the dunes. In a salutary lesson in mis-casting, the former screen vampire Robert Pattinson queens around as a young TE Lawrence, while James Franco plays an English colonial chap called Henry Cadogan in an American accent.

The Australian Nicole Kidman is the actual Queen of the Desert the English adventuress, writer and sometime spy Gertrude Bell but she is far too beautiful for the role, with an oddly inflatable and deflatable bosom.

Bell is a terrific subject for a movie, but this isnt it. The English debutante crashed through barriers that other women and even men balked at, from graduating from Oxford in 1887 to travelling in the early 20th century through Syria, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia and Arabia, documenting Bedouin and other tribes. Soon after the First World War, Bells knowledge influenced Middle Eastern policy, and drew the lines in the sand that demarcated Iraq and Jordan, the fallout from which continues today.

After failing to obey the you shall go to the ball rules of the day, Bell went out to live with her uncle in the embassy in Tehran and fell in love with Cadogan, the third secretary there. Herzog evinces Teutonic discomfort with the romance, as Franco and Kidman sit uncomfortably on rocks together, mooning over Persian poetry.

Theres something embarrassing about Kidman playing girlish at 47, as violins emote and the camera cranes up for a kiss silhouetted on the desert horizon.

In the first scene, Bell is described in 1914 as a globetrotting, rump-wagging, blethering ass, as Churchill, played by Christopher Fulford, sits round the table with his diplomatic cronies. (Note: never film Churchill from the front in a cameo if you cant find an actor with the right face.)

When the camera cuts to the young Lawrence having his say, a mass guffaw came from the audience: Oh look theres R-Patz in a tea-towel! Pattinson delivers his lines with more campery than conviction, and the problem for Herzog is that the shadow of Peter OToole in Lawrence of Arabia hangs over this whole enterprise.

Since Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre, Wrath of God, Herzog has always enjoyed an inhospitable landscape, and his desert scenes are convincing. But the sheikhs that Bell meets are mere ciphers. Kidman is better in the later incarnations of her part, particularly when opposite Damian Lewis, who plays the British consul Charles Doughty-Wylie, with whom Bell had a long, unconsummated, mostly epistolary affair.

Herzog tries his best, but colonial dialogue is not his strong suit. He has taken Bells very British story, and Eurotrashed it.

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Currently at Berlin Film Festival.. Not sure of the release date in the UK.

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Sounds like one to avoid.

And of course, there's only one Queen of the Desert.

Cheers Martin B

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Oh no! Sounds awful. Thanks Ghazala. Very interesting woman and I was hoping for better. Of course I haven't seen it but...

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And of course, there's only one Queen of the Desert.

Along with 'The Gods must be Crazy' one of my favourite fillums!

Back to Dirty Gerty, as those of us in the trade know her... She certainly has the most fascinating of life stories and was very large and fond of even larger hats and skirts, and very middle-aged when out East, so this film sounds a downer...

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Gertrude and TEL...

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Well, larger than T.E.! I was thinking more of the pyramid and the Cairo meeting photographs... Is that one from the Newcastle Archive?

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The picture with TEL was taken during the Cairo Conference, as was this one on the camels. Not that large really..!

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Yes, I unreservedly withdraw that statement... Here are a few more of her that I use in class - I can't remember where I got these ones from :unsure: but they seem to be in the public domain...

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Trajan

PS: Always interesting to see the reaction of some of my Turkish students when I explain the first photograph - and then identify who's who!

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Who is the chap in the fez that looks like Boris Karloff?

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Who is the chap in the fez that looks like Boris Karloff?

The one next to Gerty? Sorry, I have no idea

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Good one.. Winston Churchill and the 'Forty Thieves'.

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Who is the chap in the fez that looks like Boris Karloff?

Sir Sassoon Eskell, KBE (17 March 1860 31 August 1932) was an Iraqi statesman and financier. Also known as Sassoon Effendi (from Turkish Effendi, a title meaning Lord). Regarded in Iraq as the Father of Parliament he was the first Minister of Finance in the Kingdom and a permanent Member of Parliament until his death. Along with Gertrude Bell and TEL he was instrumental in the creation and the establishment of the Kingdom of Iraq post Ottoman rule and he founded the nascent Iraqi governments laws and financial structure.

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Sir Sassoon Eskell, KBE...

:thumbsup: One more to tell my students about then! I was also wondering about the chappie behind him - it looks as if he is wearing a Turkish fur hat...

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Mr Churchill's bodyguard, the indefatigable Walter Thompson, is presumably hovering just out of shot.

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On 12 March 1921 the conference was convened at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo and was attended by all the senior Military and Civil figures from Palestine and Mesopotamia. The two Arabs present were members of the Mesopotanian Mandate administration and presumably one of them is the chappie in the fur hat.

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Gertrude

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Poor old Nicole Kidman (well, not so poor, she must be a multi-millionairess) seems to have been in a series of clunkers recently.

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Strangely enough, this film came up in our monthly department meeting - but there again, with a department full of staff who have worked in the areas Dirty Gerty first reported I guess that is not that odd. I also discovered at said meeting that the film hasn't gone down that well in the US of A either...

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On 12 March 1921 the conference was convened at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo and was attended by all the senior Military and Civil figures from Palestine and Mesopotamia. The two Arabs present were members of the Mesopotanian Mandate administration and presumably one of them is the chappie in the fur hat.

Or, he could have been an officer from the Palestine Police who also wore this type of hat

edit to add:

Another interesting character sits two along from WSC; an officer with no left hand

Who could he be?

Edited by michaeldr

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Or, he could have been an officer from the Palestine Police who also wore this type of hat

edit to add:

Another interesting character sits two along from WSC; an officer with no left hand

Who could he be?

Perhaps we should move this to the WIT topic Michael. Those people over there would identify them in seconds!

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Another interesting character sits two along from WSC; an officer with no left hand

Who could he be?

Fattyowls wrote on WIT...

Could the one handed officer be General Walter Congreve? Lost a hand I think in 1917 and was GOC Egypt between 1919 and 1923 according to the extensive library reference

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