“Queen of the Desert,” which stars Nicole Kidman as the traveler, writer, and “political officer” (a combination of diplomat and spy) Gertrude Bell actually came out three years ago in a not very wide release. However, I only managed to see it recently when the film showed up on cable. I was intrigued because Bell was a contemporary of "Lawrence of Arabia," played in the movie by Robert Pattinson. Unfortunately “Queen of the Desert” was a big disappointment and pales in comparison to the more famous Peter O’Toole film about T.E.

Lawrence.

What was wrong with ‘Queen of the Desert’?

“Queen of the Desert” is not so much a narrative movie as it is a series of often gorgeous scenes, often of Kidman in period costume riding a camel across the desert. Apparently, Bell fell in love with a man in her youth, but he killed himself when his parents didn’t find him to be suitable husband material. Bell interacts with the locals with that awful phrase “quiet strength” that is applied to people with no personality. Very little is depicted about Bell’s participation in the First World War in the Middle East, which was apparently helping to draw the borders of Jordan and Iraq, something that is still creating a lot of mischief, and creating a king each to rule over these newly created countries in the British imperial orbit.

In short, the movie was dull, and, to quote another Gertrude, there was no there, there.

How I would have done it

Werner Herzog, the director of “Queen of the Desert,” is said to be a figure of something called “the New German Cinema Movement.” In my opinion, he doesn’t hold a candle to David Lean when it comes to creating historical epics. Lean, who did “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago,” and “A Passage to India,” would have been my inspiration.

I would have had to be more historically inaccurate than “Queen of the Desert” actually was to make it more interesting. I would have added more violence (i.e., battle scenes) and a little bit more romance. Also, I would have cast just about anyone as Lawrence other than Robert Pattinson. While Peter O’Toole played the British soldier with flamboyant insanity, Pattinson approached the role as a version of his dull as dishwater vampire Edward from the “Twilight” movies.

I would have shown Bell mixing it up a little bit with not only the British officers and politicians but also the Arab chieftains. “Queen of the Desert” just showed her overwhelming everyone by sheer will. Was there not anyone who objected to her because she was a woman?

Finally, Bell apparently opposed the idea of a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. It would have been interesting to show her in a rare backing down to one of the early leaders of the Zionist movement, say, David Ben-Gurion, the future prime minister of Israel. At the time he was a member of the Jewish Legion that fought with such distinction in Allenby’s various campaigns, and, when all is said and done, needs its own movie for its exploits.

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