Director: David Lean
Writers: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Cast: Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guiness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains
Plot: A biopic of the iconic, rebellious T. E. Lawrence and his part in the Arab-Turk revolt during World War I.
David Lean’s epic classic has rightly got another re-release 50 years after its initial release and 23 years since the 1989 restoration. In those 50 years a lot has changed for the film – some cut scenes have been added back, an overture, intermission and exit music has been included into the cinematic experience, and its legacy has grew all the more stronger. The 50th anniversary re-release is spectacular and once more proves the exceptional mastery of restoration teams; those longing to see it on the big screen – fans or new audiences – could not have asked for a better presentation of Lean’s grand masterpiece.
A word of warning to those only now sitting down to watch the highly-regarded film, it is a tad long. Well, 4 hours to precise (if you add on the musical interludes included in the release). Nevertheless, give yourself the time to see and you won’t be disappointed – it is obvious why this film is seen as such a revolutionary and important film. Steven Spielberg, who notes Lawrence of Arabia as his favourite film of all time, made an interesting point that if the film was to be made today it would cost somewhere in the region of $280 million. The scale of Lean’s chronicling of T. E. Lawrence’s life is nothing short of sublime – watching scenes such as the attacks on Aqaba and Damascus blow your mind. Having taken 14 months to shoot, there was a lot of love put into this film (as well as a lot of money), an aspect of the film you cannot ignore or fault.
It seems strange that this was the film that introduced the world to Peter O’Toole as his performance feels more mature, professional and admirable than many other actors around during the 1960s. His bold blue eyes that mirror the cloudless skies of the Arabian Desert are just one element that helps tattoo his image into your mind. His screen presence is magnificent and his acting is totally flawless. The same can be said for his supporting cast that includes a shadowy yet compassionate Omar Sharif as Ali, Lawrence’s loyal aid and friend.
Not knowing the motivations of every character, from a historical point of view, may be difficult for some audiences; where there’s action, there’s a counter of hefty dialogue that dramatises the plights of the era. You needn’t be well-versed in the Arab revolt against the Turks in World War I but it will certainly help. Those used to the quick-cuts, explosive environments of contemporary action-adventures will probably be bored by Lean’s lengthy portrayal of the rebellious icon, Lawrence, and should frankly opt out of watching it.
It is complex as well as compelling, exploring the many sides of the human psyche and the toils of war and heroics. It is deemed a classic for good reason and if you can spare the time to watch it properly – in the luxury of a cinema – then seek out the limited screenings. It is a masterful example of all things cinematic – score, spectacle and performance – that has been rejuvenated for one more time on the silver screen, the ultimate way to watch it.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms