I’ve been an immense fan of the movies of Werner Herzog, commencing in the ‘70’s, when I would routinely see them at the one “art” theater in Atlanta. Recently, I’ve been most impressed with [[ASIN:B00CFDAOPG Happy People: A Year in the Taiga]] and [[ASIN:B0037EAJA2 Encounters at the End of the World]], both of which I have reviewed on Amazon. So, when I saw Herzog’s latest work on one of the most remarkable women of the 20th century, Gertrude Bell, it went on the “immediate must see” list.
Ugh, and ugh again. It is a profound disappointment, one of those schmaltzy Hollywood love stories of both star-crossed and unrequited love. I was not familiar with the actress Nicole Kidman, who played Bell. It seemed to be an inappropriate casting. I certainly did not obtain a sense from Kidman of the real Bell who roamed the desert as a woman accompanied by only a few natives, and would successfully operate in a “man’s world” by negotiating with the leader of the Druze as well as the Rashids’ in Hail, in what would become part of Saudi Arabia.
The Director, if it was Herzog, depicted Bell at a big soiree in her grand home in England. Yes, she was from a very wealthy family, so that is fair. But where was the woman who literally blazed new climbing trails in the Alps BEFORE she went to Tehran to meet the love of her life? Not depicted at all. And where was the sense of the woman who wrote [[ASIN:0815411359 The Desert and the Sown: The Syrian Adventures of the Female Lawrence of Arabia]], and could write lines like: "To wake in that desert dawn was like waking in the heart of an opal..." Now that is a woman who has LIVED in the desert, and loved it.
In terms of historical accuracy, there seemed to be a number of real clunkers. In scenes set in 1906, the characters display this foreknowledge that there will be a World War when at the time, virtually everyone thought that would be an impossibility. There were a couple depictions of Churchill, one at the pyramids that did not seem plausible, and even if it really happened, seems so irrelevant to the drama of this amazing woman. But the worst faux pas was when Bell returns from Hail, and races off to meet her married lover, of their purportedly unconsummated relationship, Major Charles Doughty-Wylie, who is standing in the souks, in full British military uniform, in DAMASCUS. At the time, of course, Damascus was very much part of the Ottoman Empire, which was at war with the British Empire. It would take Allenby until 1918 to actually enter Damascus with British and allied forces.
The movie did contain a scene depicting one of her most significant achievements – along with the unmentioned Percy Cox, of creating the Kingdoms of Jordan and Iraq, one each, for the sons of Hussain, of Mecca, the loser in the struggle for the Arabian peninsula, with Ibn Saud. And it was also a serious problem that continues to haunt us today.
Admittedly I am a sucker for well-filmed desert scenery, and there was that, with the movie being filmed in Jordan and Morocco, and therefore I am willing to add an extra star to my rating. As for Herzog vision, voice and insights, they were completely missing from the movie, so I hope that he simply loaned his name to the film, for whatever reason. Overall, 2-stars.