Queen of the Desert ( Werner Herzog, 2015): USA | Morocco

Reviewed by Rowen Fields. Viewed at AFT Film Festival 2015.

“Queen of the Desert” directed by Werner Herzog, is a film intended to glorify Gertrude Bell, an amazing woman who was able to connect with many of the leaders of the middle east as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and the Islamic leaders were coming in to power. Bell (Nichole Kidman) was intended to be portrayed as the inelegant, savvy, adventurous woman she was, who changed the course of history and England’s relationship with the Middle East through the early 20th century.

The movie opens on Bell, being traipsed around a party in London after having just graduated from Oxford, one of the first women to have ever done so, expressing how she was interested in traveling to the Middle East to where her Uncle was stationed in Persia. Her father grants her this, and her adventure begins. This film intends to explore love, adventure, cultivation of relationship and respect to culture through Bell. We watch as Bell falls in love with Henry Cadogan (James Franco), and then later with Charles Doughty‑Wylie (Damian Lewis), as she makes her way through the Arabian Desert no less than 6 times, cultivating relationships with leaders, learning the languages, and the cultures of these previously under appreciated areas.

The locations, mies-en-scene, and costumes were some of the most visually interesting and stimulating aspects of this movie, viewing many exquisite desert areas and capturing the astonishingly beautiful landscapes and architecture that is known throughout these areas. The costumes are used very deliberately, expressing the time period as well as the sense of rank through the film when establishing characters.

While I had great hopes for this movie I found it generally disappointing. The acting and casting left much to be desired throughout. The writing cheesy and uninspired, it felt like an homage to films of the 40s, using these beautiful costumes and landscapes without enough character or story development. The movie felt as if it were an adventure romance, rather than a film to give praise to an amazing woman of history, focusing most of the ocean time to her love life rather than her accomplishments, for which there were numerous. Sadly, this is a movie I would not recommend, as it does not do Gertrude Bell justice for her mazing work and accomplishments through her life.

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