Queen Of The Desert is a, dare I say it, questionably dull take on a celebrated woman.
Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman) was a fierce intellectual who felt stifled by her aristocrat life in England. As one of the first women to be accepted to Oxford, it was clear that Bell wouldn’t bow to gender stereotypes. She managed to venture into desolate and sometimes hostile territories with an assertive poise that made men of all standing bend at her will. So, the film would make it seem.
Bell is listed as a writer, traveller, spy, archaeologist, political officer and administrator. She was a key adviser to Winston Churchill on colonial matters regarding the Ottoman Empire. One would imagine a film about a woman with such a remarkable reputation to be epic. It isn’t.
Do they show the woman responsible for what is known today as Jordan and Iraq? No, instead they focus on her poor romantic decisions. Do they show her intense moments as they get ambushed in the dessert, facing harsh terrains and scorching heat? No, it’s all so easy, just smile and be invited for tea with the sheik while she writes about boiling eggs and asking for two cups of tea.
With so much material it seems insulting to portray her life in a series of episodic scenes with Dear Diary voice overs. Zeitlinger’s cinematography is undoubtably visually pleasing but nothing happens to draw interest or awe for Bell. It’s unfortunate that the brief interaction with T.E. Lawrence (Robert Patterson), you might know him as Lawrence of Arabia, was the most amusing in the film.
The first half of Queen Of The Desert shows her falling in love with a gambling embassy official Henry Cadogan (James Franco), who indulges her with poetry and party tricks. The other half she romanticizes over the day she can be reunited with the married officer Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damian Lewis).
Perhaps if there was some dramatic tension, Queen of the Desert wouldn’t be so underwhelming.