Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 British epic adventure drama film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. It was directed by David Lean and produced by Sam Spiegel through his British company, Horizon Pictures, with the screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. The film stars Peter O'Toole in the title role. It is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of cinema. The dramatic score by Maurice Jarre and the Super Panavision 70 cinematography by Freddie Young are also highly acclaimed.[2] The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven in total including Best Director, Best Sound Editing, and Best Picture.

The film depicts Lawrence's experiences in Arabia during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and his involvement in the Arab National Council. Its themes include Lawrence's emotional struggles with the personal violence inherent in war, his own identity, and his divided allegiance between his native Britain and its army and his newfound comrades within the Arabian desert tribes.


 [hide*1 Plot summary

Plot summary[edit]Edit

The film is presented in two parts, separated by an intermission.

Part I[edit]Edit

In 1935, T. E. Lawrence is killed in a motorcycle accident. At his memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral, a reporter tries to gain insights into this remarkable, enigmatic man from those who knew him, with little success.

During the First World War, Lawrence is a misfit British Army lieutenant stationed in Cairo, notable for his insolence and knowledge. Over the objections of General Murray, he is sent by Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau to assess the prospects of British ally Prince Faisal in his revolt against the Turks.

On the journey, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sherif Ali for drinking from a well without permission. Lawrence later meets Colonel Brighton, who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment of Faisal's intentions, and leave. Lawrence promptly ignores Brighton's commands when he meets Faisal. His knowledge, attitude and outspokenness pique the Prince's interest.

Brighton advises Faisal to retreat to Yenbo after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes a daring surprise attack on Aqaba which, if successful, would provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies. While strongly fortified against a naval assault, the town is lightly defended on the landward side. He convinces Faisal to provide fifty men, led by a sceptical Sherif Ali. Two teenage orphans, Daud and Farraj, attach themselves to Lawrence as his servants.

They cross the Nefud Desert, considered impassable even by the Bedouins, travelling day and night on the last stage to reach water. Gasim (I. S. Johar) succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel unnoticed during the night. The rest make it to an oasis, but Lawrence turns back for the lost man and against all odds brings him back. Sherif Ali, won over, burns Lawrence's British uniform and gives him Arab robes to wear.

Lawrence persuades Auda abu Tayi, the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, to turn against the Turks. Lawrence's plan is almost derailed when one of Ali's men kills one of Auda's because of a blood feud. Since Howeitat retaliation would shatter the fragile alliance, Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. Stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, he shoots him anyway. The next morning, the intact alliance overruns the Turkishgarrison.

Lawrence heads to Cairo to inform Dryden and the new commander, General Allenby, of his victory. During the crossing of the Sinai Desert, Daud dies when he stumbles into quicksand. Lawrence is promoted to major and given arms and money to support the Arabs. He is deeply disturbed, confessing that he enjoyed executing Gasim, but Allenby brushes aside his qualms. He asks Allenby whether there is any basis for the Arabs' suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia. Pressed, the general states they have no such designs.

Part II[edit]Edit

Lawrence launches a guerrilla war, blowing up trains and harassing the Turks at every turn. American war correspondent Jackson Bentley publicises his exploits, making him world famous. On one raid, Farraj is badly injured. Unwilling to leave him to be tortured, Lawrence is forced to shoot him before fleeing.

When Lawrence scouts the enemy-held city of Daraa with Ali, he is taken, along with several Arab residents, to the Turkish Bey. Lawrence is stripped, ogled and prodded. For striking out at the Bey, he is severely flogged, and possibly raped, which is implied. He is then thrown out into the street. It is an emotional turning point for Lawrence. He is so traumatised by the experience that he abandons all of his exploits, going from having proclaimed himself almost a god, to insisting he is merely a man. He attempts to return to the British forces and swear off the desert, but he never fits in there. In Jerusalem, Allenby urges him to support his "big push" on Damascus, but Lawrence is a changed, tormented man, unwilling to return. After Allenby insists that Lawrence has a destiny, he finally relents. Lawrence naively believes that the warriors will come for him rather than for money.

He recruits an army, mainly killers, mercenaries, and cutthroats motivated by money, rather than the Arab cause. They sight a column of retreating Turkish soldiers who have just slaughtered the people of the village of Tafas. One of Lawrence's men from the village demands, "No prisoners!" When Lawrence hesitates, the man charges the Turks alone and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man's cry, resulting in a massacre in which Lawrence himself fully participates, with disturbing relish. Afterward, he realises the horrible consequences of what he has done.

His men then take Damascus ahead of Allenby's forces. The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but they are desert tribesmen, ill-suited for such a task. The various tribes argue among themselves and in spite of Lawrence's insistence, cannot unite against the British, who in the end take the city back under their bureaucracy. Unable to maintain the utilities and bickering constantly with each other, they soon abandon most of the city to the British. Promoted to colonel and immediately ordered home, his usefulness at an end to both Faisal and the British diplomats, a dejected Lawrence is driven away in a staff car.


  • Peter O'Toole as Thomas Edward "T. E." LawrenceAlbert Finney, at the time a virtual unknown, was Lean's first choice to play Lawrence, but Finney was not sure the film would be a success and turned it down. Marlon Brando was also offered the part, and Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were briefly considered, before O'Toole was cast.[3] Alec Guinness had previously played Lawrence in the play Ross, and was briefly considered for the part, but David Lean and Sam Spiegel thought him too old. Lean had seen O'Toole in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England and was bowled over by his screen test, proclaiming "This is Lawrence!" Spiegel disliked O'Toole, having worked with him on Suddenly, Last Summer (where O'Toole was an understudy for Montgomery Clift and considered to take over his part after Clift's alcoholism caused problems), but acceded to Lean's demands after Finney and Brando dropped out. Pictures of Lawrence suggest also that O'Toole carried some resemblance to him, in spite of their considerable height difference. O'Toole's looks prompted a different reaction from Noël Coward, who after seeing the première of the film quipped "If you had been any prettier, the film would have been called Florence of Arabia".[4]
  • Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal. Faisal was originally to be portrayed by Laurence Olivier; Guinness, who performed in other David Lean films, got the part when Olivier dropped out. Guinness was made up to look as much like the real Faisal as possible; he recorded in his diaries that, while shooting in Jordan, he met several people who had known Faisal who actually mistook him for the late prince. Guinness said in interviews that he developed his Arab accent from a conversation he had with Omar Sharif.
  • Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi. Quinn got very much into his role; he spent hours applying his own makeup, using a photograph of the real Auda to make himself look as much like him as he could. One anecdote has Quinn arriving on-set for the first time in full costume, whereupon Lean, mistaking him for a native, asked his assistant to ring Quinn and notify him that they were replacing him with the new arrival.
  • Jack Hawkins as General Allenby. Sam Spiegel pushed Lean to cast Cary Grant or Laurence Olivier (who was engaged at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and declined). Lean, however, convinced him to choose Hawkins due to his work for them on The Bridge on the River Kwai. Hawkins shaved his head for the role and reportedly clashed with David Lean several times during filming. Alec Guinness recounted that Hawkins was reprimanded by Lean for celebrating the end of a day's filming with an impromptu dance. Hawkins became close friends with O'Toole during filming, and the two often improvised dialogue during takes, much to Lean's dismay.
  • Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali. The role was offered to many actors before Omar Sharif was cast. Horst Buchholz was the first choice, but had already signed on for the film One, Two, ThreeAlain Delon had a successful screen test, but ultimately declined due to the brown contact lenses he would have had to wear. Maurice Ronet and Dilip Kumar were also considered.[5] Sharif, who was already a major star in the Middle East, was originally cast as Lawrence's guide Tafas, but when the above actors proved unsuitable, Sharif was shifted to the part of Ali.
  • José Ferrer as the Turkish Bey. Ferrer was initially unsatisfied with the small size of his part, and accepted the role only on the condition of being paid $25,000 (more than O'Toole and Sharif combined) plus a factory-made Porsche.[6]However, he afterwards considered this his best film performance, saying in an interview: "If I was to be judged by any one film performance, it would be my five minutes in Lawrence." Peter O'Toole once said that he learned more about screen acting from Ferrer than he could in any acting class.
  • Anthony Quayle as Colonel Harry Brighton. Quayle, a veteran of military roles, was cast after Jack Hawkins, the original choice, was shifted to the part of Allenby. Quayle and Lean argued over how to portray the character, with Lean feeling Brighton to be an honourable character, while Quayle thought him an idiot.
  • Claude Rains as Mr. Dryden. Rains had previously worked with Lean on The Passionate Friends. Lean considered Rains one of his favourite actors and was happy to work with him again.
  • Arthur Kennedy as Jackson Bentley. In the early days of the production, when the Bentley character had a more prominent role in the film, Kirk Douglas was considered for the part; Douglas expressed interest but demanded a star salary and the highest billing after O'Toole, and thus was turned down by Spiegel. Later, Edmond O'Brien was cast in the part.[7] O'Brien filmed the Jerusalem scene, and (according to Omar Sharif) Bentley's political discussion with Ali, but he suffered a heart attack on location and had to be replaced at the last moment by Kennedy, who was recommended to Lean by Anthony Quinn.[8]
  • Donald Wolfit as General Murray. Wolfit was one of O'Toole's mentors.
  • Michel Ray as Farraj. At the time, Ray was an up-and-coming Anglo-Brazilian actor, who had previously appeared in several films, including Irving Rapper's The Brave One and Anthony Mann's The Tin Star. This was one of his last roles. Ray, under the name Michel de Carvalho, later became a prominent British businessman and, through his wife, Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, is the majority shareholder in the Heineken brewing company, worth over £8,000,000,000 sterling as of 2002.
  • I. S. Johar as Gasim. Johar was a well-known Bollywood actor who occasionally appeared in international productions.
  • Zia Mohyeddin as Tafas. Mohyeddin was one of Pakistan's best-known actors, and launched a successful stage career in London after this film's success. Most famously, he played Dr Aziz in the stage and TV adaptation of A Passage to India in the late 1960s.
  • Gamil Ratib as Majid. Ratib was a veteran Egyptian actor. His English was not considered good enough, so he was dubbed by Robert Rietti in the final film.
  • John Dimech as Daud. Dimech was a waiter from Malta. His only prior film appearance was in 1959's Killers of Kilimanjaro.
  • Hugh Miller as the RAMC colonel. Miller worked on several of Lean's films as a dialogue coach, and was one of several members of the film crew to be given bit parts (see below).
  • Fernando Sancho as the Turkish sergeant. A well-known Spanish actor, best remembered for his roles in many spaghetti Westerns.
  • Stuart Saunders as the regimental sergeant major
  • Jack Gwillim as the club secretary. A well-known English actor often playing supporting roles in British war films, Gwillim was recommended to Lean for the film by close friend Anthony Quayle.
  • Kenneth Fortescue as Allenby's aide
  • Harry Fowler as Corporal Potter
  • Howard Marion-Crawford as the medical officer. Marion-Crawford was cast at the last possible minute, during the filming of the "Damascus" scenes in Seville.
  • John Ruddock as Elder Harith. Ruddock was a noted Shakespearean actor.
  • Norman Rossington as Corporal Jenkins
  • Jack Hedley as a reporter
  • Henry Oscar as Silliam, Faisal's servant. Oscar frequently played non-European parts, including the Sudanese doctor in The Four Feathers (1939).
  • Peter Burton as a Damascus sheik

Various members of the film's crew portrayed minor characters. First assistant director Roy Stevens played the truck driver who transports Lawrence and Farraj to the Cairo HQ at the end of Act I; the Sergeant who stops Lawrence and Farraj ("Where do you think you're going to, Mustapha?") is construction assistant, Fred Bennett; and screenwriter Robert Bolt has a wordless cameo as one of the officers watching Allenby and Lawrence confer in the courtyard (he is smoking a pipe). Steve Birtles, the film's gaffer, plays the motorcyclist at the Suez Canal; David Lean himself is rumored to be the voice shouting "Who are you?" Finally, continuity girl Barbara Cole appears as one of the nurses in the Damascus hospital scene.

The film is unusual in that it has no women in credited speaking roles.

Nonfictional characters
Fictional characters
  • Sherif Ali: A combination of numerous Arab leaders, particularly Sharif Nassir—Faisal's cousin—who led the Harith[disambiguation needed] forces involved in the attack on Aqaba. The character was created largely because Lawrence did not serve with any one Arab leader (aside from Auda) throughout the majority of the war; most such leaders were amalgamated in Ali's character. This character was, however, almost certainly named after Sharif Ali ibn Hussein, a leader in the Harith tribe, who played a part in the Revolt and is mentioned and pictured in T.E. Lawrence's memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
  • Mr Dryden: The cynical Arab Bureau official was based loosely on numerous figures, including Sir Ronald Storrs, who was head of the Arab Bureau and later the governor of Palestine. It was largely Storrs' doing that Lawrence first met Faisal and became involved with the Revolt. This character is also partially based upon Lawrence's archaeologist friend, D.G. Hogarth, as well as Mark Sykes and Henry McMahon, who historically fulfilled Dryden's role as a political liaison. He was created by the screenwriters to "represent the civilian and political wing of British interests, to balance Allenby's military objectives."
  • Colonel Brighton: In essence a composite of all of the British officers who served in the Middle East with Lawrence, most notably Lt. Col. Stewart F. Newcombe. Newcombe played much the same role as Brighton does in the film, being Lawrence's predecessor as liaison to the Arab Revolt; he and many of his men were captured by the Turks in 1916, though he later escaped. Also, like Brighton, Newcombe was not well liked by the Arabs, though he remained friends with Lawrence. (In Michael Wilson's original script, he was Colonel Newcombe; the character's name was later changed by Robert Bolt.) Brighton was apparently created to represent how ordinary British soldiers would feel about a man like Lawrence: impressed by his accomplishments but repulsed by his affected manner. (Lean argued that Brighton was "the only honourable character" in the film, whereas Anthony Quayle referred to his character as an "idiot".)

[1][2]Hacim Muhiddin Bey*Turkish Bey: The Turkish Bey who captures Lawrence in Deraa was—according to Lawrence himself—General Hajim Bey (in Turkish, Hacim Muhiddin Bey), though he is not named in the film. Though the incident was mentioned in Lawrence's autobiography Seven Pillars of Wisdom, some biographers (Jeremy Wilson, John Mack) argue that Lawrence's account is to be believed; others (Michael Asher, Lawrence James) argue that contemporary evidence suggests that Lawrence never went to Dera'a at this time and that the story is invented.

  • Jackson Bentley: Based on famed American journalist Lowell Thomas, who helped make Lawrence famous with accounts of his bravery. However, Thomas was at the time a young man who spent only a few days (or weeks at most) with Lawrence in the field—unlike Bentley, who is depicted as a cynical middle-aged Chicago newspaperman who is present during the whole of Lawrence's later campaigns. Bentley was the narrator in Michael Wilson's original script, but Robert Bolt reduced his role significantly for the final script. Thomas did not start reporting on Lawrence until after the end of World War I, and held Lawrence in high regard, unlike Bentley, who seems to hold him in contempt.
  • Tafas: Lawrence's guide to Faisal is based on his actual guide, Sheikh Obeid el-Rashid, of the Hazimi branch of the Beni Salem, whom Lawrence referred to as Tafas several times in Seven Pillars. Tafas and Lawrence did meet Sherif Ali at a well during Lawrence's travels to Faisal, but the encounter was not fatal for either party. (Indeed, this scene created much controversy among Arab viewers.)
  • Medical officer: This unnamed officer who confronts Lawrence in Damascus is based on an actual incident in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence's meeting the officer again while in British uniform was, however, an invention of Wilson or Bolt.

Historical accuracy[edit]Edit

Most of the film's characters are either real or based on real characters to varying degrees. The events depicted in the film are largely based on accepted historical fact and Lawrence's own writing about events, though they have various degrees of romanticisation.

Some scenes—such as the attack on Aqaba—were heavily fictionalised, while those dealing with the Arab Council were inaccurate, inasmuch as the council remained more or less in power in Syria until France deposed Faisal in 1920. Little background on the history of the region, the First World War, and the Arab Revolt is provided, probably due to Bolt's increased focus on Lawrence (while Wilson's draft script had a broader, more politicised version of events). The theme (in the second half of the film) that Lawrence's Arab army deserted almost to a man as he moved farther north was completely fictional. The film's timeline of the Arab Revolt and World War I, and the geography of the Hejaz region, are frequently questionable. For instance, Bentley interviews Faisal in late 1917, after the fall of Aqaba, saying the United States has not yet entered the war, yet America had been in the war for several months by that time. Further, Lawrence's involvement in the Arab Revolt prior to the attack on Aqaba—such as his involvement in the seizures of Yenbo and Wejh—is completely excised. The rescue and execution of Gasim is based on two separate incidents, which were conflated for dramatic reasons. The film shows Lawrence representing the Allied cause in the Hejaz almost alone with only one British officer, Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle) there to assist him. In fact, there were numerous British officers such as colonels Cyril Wilson, Stewart Francis Newcombe and Pierce C. Joyce, all of whom arrived before Lawrence began serving in Arabia.[9] In addition, there was a French military mission led by Colonel Edouard Brémond serving in the Hejaz, of which no mention is made in the film.[10] The film shows Lawrence as the sole originator of the attacks on the Hejaz railroad. The first attacks on this began in early January 1917 led by officers such as Newcombe.[11] The first successful attack on the Hejaz railroad with a locomotive-destroying "Garland mine" was led by Major H. Garland in February 1917, a month before Lawrence's first attack.[12] The film shows the Hashemite forces as comprising Bedouin guerrillas, whereas in fact the core of the Hashemite forces was the Regular Arab Army recruited from Ottoman Arab POWs, who wore British-style uniforms with keffiyahs and fought in conventional battles.[13]The film makes no mention of the Sharifian Army, and leaves the viewer with the impression that the Hashemite forces were composed exclusively of Bedouin irregulars.

Representation of Lawrence[edit]Edit

[3][4]Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence.

Many complaints about the film's accuracy centre on the characterisation of Lawrence. The perceived problems with the portrayal begin with the differences in his physical appearance: the 6-foot 2-inch (1.87 m) Peter O'Toole was almost nine inches (23 cm) taller than the man he played.[citation needed] His behaviour, however, has caused much more debate.

The screenwriters depict Lawrence as an egotist. The degree to which Lawrence sought or shunned attention, such as by his use after the war of various assumed names, is a matter of debate. Even during the war, Lowell Thomas wrote in With Lawrence in Arabia that he could take pictures of him only by tricking him, although Lawrence did later agree to pose for several photos for Thomas's stage show. Thomas's famous comment that Lawrence "had a genius for backing into the limelight" referred to the fact that his extraordinary actions prevented him from being as private as he would have liked. Others disagree, pointing to Lawrence's own writings in Seven Pillars of Wisdom to support the argument that he was egotistical.

Lawrence's sexual orientation remains a controversial topic among historians; though Bolt's primary source was ostensibly Seven Pillars, the film's portrayal seems informed by Richard Aldington's then-recent Biographical Inquiry (1955), which posited among other things that Lawrence was homosexual. The film features Lawrence's alleged sadomasochism as a major part of his character (for instance, his "match trick" in Cairo, his "enjoyment" of killing Gasim). While Lawrence almost certainly engaged in flagellation and like activities after the Deraa incident, there is no biographical evidence he was a masochist before then. The film's depiction of Lawrence as an active participant in the Tafas Massacre was disputed at the time by historians, including biographer Basil Liddell Hart, but most current biographers accept the film's portrayal of the massacre as reasonably accurate.

Although the film does show that Lawrence could speak and read Arabic, could quote the Quran, and was reasonably knowledgeable about the region, it barely mentions his archaeological travels from 1911 to 1914 in Syria and Arabia, and ignores his espionage work, including a pre-war topographical survey of the Sinai Peninsula and his attempts to negotiate the release of British prisoners at Kut in Mesopotamia in 1916.

Furthermore, in the film, Lawrence is only made aware of the Sykes–Picot Agreement very late in the story and is shown to be appalled by it, whereas the "real" Lawrence, while fighting alongside the Arabs, knew about it much earlier.[14]

Lawrence's biographers have had a mixed reaction towards the film. Authorised biographer Jeremy Wilson noted that the film has "undoubtedly influenced the perceptions of some subsequent biographers", such as the depiction of the film's Ali as the real Sherif Ali, rather than a composite character, and also the highlighting of the Deraa incident.[15] (In fairness to Lean and his writers, the Deraa connection was made by several Lawrence biographers, including Edward Robinson (Lawrence the Rebel) and Anthony Nutting (The Man and the Motive) before the film's release). The film's historical inaccuracies are, in Wilson's view, more troublesome than what can be allowed under normal dramatic license. At the time, Liddell Hart publicly criticised the film, engaging Bolt in a lengthy correspondence over its portrayal of Lawrence.[16]

Representation of other characters[edit]Edit

The film portrays General Allenby as cynical and manipulative, with a superior attitude to Lawrence, but there is much evidence that Allenby and Lawrence respected and liked each other. Lawrence once said Allenby was "an admiration of mine"[17] and later that he was "physically large and confident and morally so great that the comprehension of our littleness came slow to him".[18] In contrast to the fictional Allenby's words at Lawrence's funeral in the film, upon Lawrence's death Allenby remarked, "I have lost a good friend and a valued comrade. Lawrence was under my command, but, after acquainting him with my strategical plan, I gave him a free hand. His co-operation was marked by the utmost loyalty, and I never had anything but praise for his work, which, indeed, was invaluable throughout the campaign."[19] Allenby also spoke highly of him numerous times, and, much to Lawrence's delight, publicly endorsed the accuracy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Although Allenby did manipulate Lawrence during the war, their relationship lasted for years after its end, indicating that in real life they were friendly, if not close. The Allenby family was particularly upset by the Damascus scenes, where Allenby coldly allows the town to fall into chaos as the Arab Council collapses.[20]

Similarly, General Murray, though initially sceptical of the Arab Revolt's potential, thought highly of Lawrence's abilities as an intelligence officer; indeed, it was largely through Lawrence's persuasion that Murray came to support the revolt. The intense dislike shown toward Lawrence in the film is in fact the opposite of Murray's real feelings, although for his part Lawrence seemed not to hold Murray in any high regard.

The depiction of Auda abu Tayi as a man interested only in loot and money is also at odds with the historical record. Although Auda did at first join the Arab Revolt for monetary reasons, he quickly became a steadfast supporter of Arab independence. Notably after Aqaba's capture, he refused repeated bribery attempts by the Turks (though he happily pocketed their money) and remained loyal to the revolt. He was present with Lawrence from the beginning of the Aqabaexpedition and in fact helped plan it along with Lawrence and Prince Faisal.

Faisal, far from being the middle-aged man depicted, was in reality in his early 30s at the time of the revolt. Faisal and Lawrence respected each others' capabilities and intelligence. They worked well together.[21]

The reactions of those who knew Lawrence and the other characters say much about the film's veracity. Its most vehement critic of its accuracy was Professor A.W.(Arnold) Lawrence, the protagonist's younger brother and literary executor, who had sold the rights to Seven Pillars of Wisdom to Spiegel for £25,000. Arnold Lawrence went on a campaign in the United States and Britain denouncing the film, famously saying, "I should not have recognised my own brother". In one pointed talk show appearance, he remarked that he had found the film “pretentious and false." He went on to say his brother was "one of the nicest, kindest and most exhilarating people I’ve known. He often appeared cheerful when he was unhappy.” Later, to the New York Times, Arnold said, “[The film is] a psychological recipe. Take an ounce of narcissism, a pound of exhibitionism, a pint of sadism, a gallon of blood-lust and a sprinkle of other aberrations and stir well.” Lowell Thomas was also critical of the portrayal of Lawrence and most of the film's characters, believing the train attack scenes were the only reasonably accurate aspect of the film.

The criticisms were not restricted to Lawrence. The Allenby family lodged a formal complaint against Columbia about the portrayal of him. Descendants of Auda abu Tayi and the real Sherif Ali, despite the fact that the film's Ali was fictional, went further, suing Columbia. The Auda case went on for almost 10 years before it was dropped.[22]

The film has its defenders. Biographer Michael Korda, author of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, offers a different opinion. While the film is neither "the full story of Lawrence's life or a completely accurate account of the two years he spent fighting with the Arabs," Korda argues that criticising its inaccuracy "misses the point": "The object was to produce, not a faithful docudrama that would educate the audience, but a hit picture."[23] Stephen E. Tabachnick goes further than Korda, arguing that the film's portrayal of Lawrence is "appropriate and true to the text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom."[24] British historian of the Arab Revolt David Murphy wrote that though the film was flawed due to various inaccuracies and omissions, "it was a truly epic movie and is rightly seen as a classic".[25]



Previous films about T. E. Lawrence had been planned but had not been made. In the 1940s, Alexander Korda was interested in filming The Seven Pillars of Wisdom with either Laurence OlivierLeslie Howard or Robert Donat as Lawrence, but had to pull out due to financial difficulties. David Lean himself had been approached to direct a 1952 version for the Rank Organisation, but the project fell through. Also, at the same time as pre-production of the film,Terence Rattigan was developing his play Ross which centred primarily on Lawrence's alleged homosexuality. Ross had begun life as a screenplay, but was re-written for the stage when the film project fell through. Sam Spiegel grew furious and unsuccessfully attempted to have the play suppressed, furor at which helped to gain publicity for the film.[26] Dirk Bogarde had accepted the role in Ross; he described the cancellation of the project as "my bitterest disappointment". Alec Guinness played the role on stage.

Lean and Sam Spiegel were coming off the huge success of The Bridge on the River Kwai, and were eager to work together again. For a time, Lean was interested in a biopic of Gandhi, with Alec Guinness to play the title role andEmeric Pressburger writing the screenplay. Despite extensive pre-production work (including location scouting in India and a meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru), Lean eventually lost interest in the project.[27] Lean then returned his attention to T.E. Lawrence. Columbia Pictures had an interest in a Lawrence project dating back to the early '50s, and when Spiegel convinced a reluctant A.W. Lawrence to sell the rights to The Seven Pillars of Wisdom for £25,000, the project got underway.

When Lawrence of Arabia was first announced, Lawrence's biographer Lowell Thomas offered producer Spiegel and screenwriters Bolt and Wilson a large amount of research material he had produced on Lawrence during and after his time with him in the Arab Revolt. Spiegel rejected the offer.[citation needed]

Michael Wilson wrote the original draft of the screenplay. However, Lean was dissatisfied with Wilson's work, primarily because his treatment had a clear focus on the historical and political aspects of the Arab Revolt. Lean hired Robert Bolt to re-write the script in order to make it a character study of Lawrence himself. While many of the characters and scenes are Wilson's invention, virtually all of the dialogue in the finished film was written by Bolt.

Lean reportedly watched John Ford's film The Searchers (1956) to help him develop ideas as to how to shoot the film. Several scenes in the film directly recall Ford's film, most notably Ali's entrance at the well and the composition of many of the desert scenes and the dramatic exit from Wadi Rum. Lean biographer Kevin Brownlow even notes the physical similarity between Rumm and Ford's Monument Valley.[28] The film's plot structure also bears similarity toOrson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941), particularly the opening scenes with Lawrence's death and the reporter inquiring notables at Lawrence's funeral.


The film was made by Horizon Pictures and Columbia Pictures. Shooting began on 15 May 1961 and ended on 20 October 1962.

The desert scenes were shot in Jordan and Morocco, as well as Almería and Doñana in Spain. The film was originally to be filmed entirely in Jordan: the government of King Hussein was extremely helpful in providing logistical assistance, location scouting, transportation, and extras; Hussein himself visited the set several times during production and maintained cordial relationships with cast and crew. During the production of the film, Hussein met and marriedToni Gardner, who was working as a switchboard operator in Aqaba. The only tension occurred when Jordanian officials learned that English actor Henry Oscar, who did not speak Arabic, would be filmed reciting the Qur'an; permission was granted only on condition that an imam be present to ensure that there were no misquotations.

[6][7]The Mudéjar pavilion of the Parque de María Luisa in Seville appeared as Jerusalem.[8][9]The Plaza de España in Seville appeared as the officers' club in Cairo.

In Jordan, Lean planned to film in the real Aqaba and the archaeological site at Petra, which Lawrence had been fond of as a place of study. However, the production had to be moved to Spain, much to Lean's regret, due to cost and outbreaks of illness among the cast and crew before these scenes could be shot. The attack on Aqaba was reconstructed in a dried river bed in southern Spain (at 37°1′25″N 1°52′53″W); it consisted of over 300 buildings and was meticulously based on the town's appearance in 1917. The execution of Gasim, the train attacks and Deraa exteriors were filmed in the Almería region, with the former's filming being delayed because of a flash flood. The Sierra Nevada mountains filled in for Azrak, Lawrence's winter quarters. The city of Sevillewas used to represent CairoJerusalem and Damascus, with the appearance of Casa de Pilatos, the Alcázar of Seville and the Plaza de España. All of the interiors were shot in Spain, including Lawrence's first meeting with Faisal and the scene in Auda's tent.

The Tafas massacre was filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco, with Moroccan army troops substituting for the Turkish army; however, Lean could not film as much as he wanted because the soldiers were uncooperative and impatient.[29] One of the second-unit directors for the Morocco scenes was André de Toth, who suggested a shot wherein bags of blood would be machine-gunned, spraying the screen with blood. Second-unit cinematographer Nicolas Roeg approached Lean with this idea, but Lean found it disgusting. De Toth subsequently left the project.

The film's production was frequently delayed because, unusually, the film started shooting without a finished script. After Wilson quit early in the production, playwright Beverley Cross worked on the script in the interim before Bolt took over, although none of Cross's material made it to the final film. A further mishap occurred when Bolt was arrested for taking part in an anti-nuclear weapons demonstration, and Spiegel had to persuade Bolt to sign a recognizance of good behaviour for him to be released from jail and continue working on the script.

Camels caused several problems on set. O'Toole was not used to riding camels and found the saddle to be uncomfortable. While in Amman during a break in filming, he bought a piece of foam rubber at a market and added it to his saddle. Many of the extras copied the idea and sheets of the foam can be seen on many of the horse and camel saddles. The Bedouins nicknamed O'Toole "'Ab al-'Isfanjah" (أب الإسفنجة), meaning "Father of the Sponge".[30] The idea spread and to this day, many Bedouins add foam rubber to their saddles.

Later, during the filming of the Aqaba scene, O'Toole was nearly killed when he fell from his camel, but fortunately, it stood over him, preventing the horses of the extras from trampling him. Coincidentally a very similar mishap befell the real Lawrence at the Battle of Abu El Lissal in 1917. In another mishap, O'Toole seriously injured his hand during filming by punching through the window of a caravan while drunk. A brace or bandage can be seen on his left thumb during the first train attack scene, presumably due to this incident.

Along with many other Arab countries, Jordan banned the film for what they felt to be a disrespectful portrayal of Arab culture. Egypt, Omar Sharif's home country, was the only Arab nation to give the film a wide release, where it became a success through the endorsement of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who appreciated the film's depiction of Arab nationalism.


The score was composed by Maurice Jarre, little known at the time and selected only after both William Walton and Malcolm Arnold had proved unavailable. Jarre was given just six weeks to compose two hours of orchestral music for Lawrence.[31] The score was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Although Sir Adrian Boult is credited as the conductor of the score in the film's credits, he could not conduct most of the score, due in part to his failure to adapt to the intricate timings of each cue, and Jarre replaced him as the conductor. The score went on to garner Jarre his first Academy Award for Music Score—Substantially Original[32] and is now considered one of the greatest scores of all time, ranking number three on the American Film Institute's top twenty-five film scores.[33]

The original soundtrack recording was originally released on Colpix Records, the records division of Columbia Pictures, in 1962. A remastered edition appeared on Castle Music, a division of theSanctuary Records Group, on 28 August 2006.

Kenneth Alford's march The Voice of the Guns (1917) is prominently featured on the soundtrack. One of Alford's other pieces, the Colonel Bogey March, was the musical theme for Lean's previous film, The Bridge on the River Kwai.

However, a complete recording of the score was not heard until 2010, when Tadlow Music produced a CD of the music, with Nic Raine conducting The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra from scores reconstructed by Leigh Phillips.


Theatrical run[edit]Edit

The film premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on 10 December 1962 (Royal Premiere) and was released in the United States on 16 December 1962.

The original release ran for about 222 minutes (plus overture, intermission, and exit music). A post-premiere memo (13 December 1962) noted that the film was 24,987.5 ft (70 mm) and 19,990 ft (35 mm). With 90 ft of 35 mm film projected every minute, this corresponds to exactly 222.11 minutes.

In an email to Robert Morris, co-author of a book on Lawrence of Arabia, Richard May, VP Film Preservation at Warner Bros., noted that Gone With the Wind, never edited after its premiere, is 19,884 ft of 35 mm film (without leaders, overture, intermission, entr'acte or walkout music) corresponding to 220.93 min.

Thus, Lawrence of Arabia, slightly more than 1 minute longer than Gone With the Wind, is the longest movie ever to win a Best Picture Oscar.

In January 1963, Lawrence was released in a version edited by 20 minutes; when it was re-released in 1971, an even shorter cut of 187 minutes was presented. The first round of cuts was made at the direction and even insistence of David Lean, to assuage criticisms of the film's length and increase the number of showings per day; however, during the 1989 restoration he passed blame for the cuts onto by-then-deceased producer Sam Spiegel.[34] In addition, a 1966 print, used for initial television and video releases, accidentally altered a few scenes by reversing the image.[35]

The film was screened out of competition at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.[36] and at the 2012 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.[37]

Restored director's cut[edit]Edit

The current "restored version", undertaken by Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten (under the supervision of director David Lean), was released in 1989 with a 216-minute length (plus overture, intermission, and exit music).

Most of the cut scenes were dialogue sequences, particularly those involving General Allenby and his staff. Two whole scenes—Brighton's briefing of Allenby in Jerusalem before the Daraa scene and the British staff meeting in the field tent—were completely excised, and the former has still not been entirely restored. Much of the missing dialogue involves Lawrence's writing of poetry and verse, alluded to by Allenby in particular, saying "the last poetry general we had was Wellington". The opening of Act II, where Faisal is interviewed by Bentley, and the later scene, in Jerusalem where Allenby convinces Lawrence not to resign, existed in only fragmented form; they were restored to the 1989 re-release. Some of the more graphic shots of the Tafas massacre scene—the lengthy panning shot of the corpses in Tafas, and Lawrence shooting a surrendering Turkish soldier—were also restored. Most of the still-missing footage is of minimal import, supplementing existing scenes. One scene is an extended version of the Daraa rape sequence, which makes Lawrence's punishment in that scene more overt. Other scripted scenes exist, including a conversation between Auda and Lawrence immediately after the fall of Aqaba, a brief scene of Turkish officers noting the extent of Lawrence's campaign, and the battle of Petra (later reworked into the first train attack), but these scenes were probably not filmed. The actors still living at the time of the re-release dubbed their own dialogue, though Jack Hawkins's dialogue had to be dubbed by Charles Gray (who had already done Hawkins' voice for several films after the former developed throat cancer in the late 1960s). A full list of cuts can be found at the Internet Movie Database.[38] Reasons for the cuts of various scenes can be found in Lean's notes to Sam Spiegel, Robert Bolt, and Anne V. Coates.[39] The film runs 227 minutes in the most recent director's cut available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]Edit

Lawrence of Arabia has been released in five different DVD editions, including an initial release as a two-disc set (2001), followed by a shorter single disc edition (2002), a high resolution version of the director's cut with restored scenes (2003) issued as part of the Superbit series, as part of the Columbia Best Pictures collection (2008), and in a fully restored special edition of the director's cut (2008).[40]

Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg helped restore a version of the film for a DVD release in 2000.[41]

New restoration, Blu-ray and theatrical re-release[edit]Edit

An 8K scan/4K intermediate digital restoration was made for Blu-ray and theatrical re-release[42] during 2012 by Sony Pictures to celebrate the film's 50th anniversary.[43] The Blu-ray edition of the film was released in the United Kingdom on 10 September 2012 and in the United States on 13 November 2012.[44] The film received a one-day theatrical release on 4 October 2012, a two-day release in Canada on 11 and 15 November 2012, and was also re-released in the United Kingdom on 23 November 2012.[45]

According to Grover Crisp, executive VP of restoration at Sony Pictures, the new 8K scan has such high resolution that when examined, showed a series of fine concentric lines in a pattern "reminiscent of a fingerprint" near the top of the frame. This was caused by the film emulsion melting and cracking in the desert heat during production. Sony had to hire a third party to minimise or eliminate the rippling artefacts in the new restored version.[42]

4K digitally-restored version of the film was screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival,[46][47] at the 2012 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival,[37] at the V Janela Internacional de Cinema[48] in Recife, Brazil, and at the 2013 Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose California.[49]


Upon its release, Lawrence was a huge critical and financial success and it remains popular among viewers and critics alike. The striking visuals, dramatic music, literate screenplay and superb performance by Peter O'Toole have all been common points of acclaim and the film as a whole is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. Its visual style has influenced many directors, including George LucasSam PeckinpahMartin ScorseseRidley Scott, and Steven Spielberg, who called the film a "miracle".[50]

The film is regarded as a masterpiece of world cinema and is ranked highly on many lists of the best films ever made. The American Film Institute ranked the film 5th in its original and 7th in its updated list of the greatest films and first in its list of the greatest films of the "epic" genre.[51] In 1991, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1999 the film placed third in a BFI poll of the best British films and in 2001 the magazine Total Film called it "as shockingly beautiful and hugely intelligent as any film ever made" and "faultless".[52] It has also ranked in the top ten films of all time in a Sight and Sound directors' poll. Additionally, O'Toole's performance has also often been considered one of the greatest of all time, topping lists made by both Entertainment Weekly and Premiere. T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by O'Toole, has been selected as the tenth-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute.[53]

Lawrence of Arabia is currently one of the highest-rated films on Metacritic; it holds a 100/100 rating, indicating "universal acclaim". However, some critics—notably Bosley Crowther[54] and Andrew Sarris[55]—have criticised the film for an indefinite portrayal of Lawrence and lack of depth.

Awards and honours[edit]Edit

Award Category Name Outcome
35th Academy Awards

(Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)[56]

Best Picture Sam Spiegel Won
Best Director David Lean Won
Best Art Direction John BoxJohn Stoll and Dario Simoni Won
Best Cinematography Frederick A. Young Won
Best Substantially Original Score Maurice Jarre Won
Best Film Editing Ann V. Coates Won
Best Sound John Cox Won
Best Actor Peter O'Toole Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Omar Sharif Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson Nominated
16th British Academy Film Awards

(British Academy of Film and Television Arts)

Best Film from any Source Sam Spiegel and David Lean Won
Best British Film Sam Spiegel and David Lean Won
Best British Actor Peter O'Toole Won
Best British Screenplay Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson Won
Best Foreign Actor Anthony Quinn Nominated
20th Golden Globe Awards

(Hollywood Foreign Press Association)

Best Motion Picture – Drama David Lean and Sam Spiegel Won
Best Director of a Motion Picture David Lean Won
Best Supporting Actor Omar Sharif Won
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Omar Sharif Won
Best Cinematography, Color Frederick A. Young Won
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Peter O'Toole Nominated
Directors Guild of America
David di Donatello Awards
  • Best Foreign Film – Sam Spiegel
British Society of Cinematographers
  • Best Cinematography Award – Freddie Young
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists
  • Best Director Foreign Film – David Lean
Kinema Junpo Awards
  • Best Foreign Language Film – David Lean
National Board of Review
  • Best Director – David Lean
Writers' Guild of Great Britain

American Film Institute recognition


The use of the locations in Almería, Spain for the train sequences and others made that region popular with international film makers. Most famously, it became the setting of virtually all of the Spaghetti Westerns of the '60s and '70s, specifically those of Sergio Leone. (The oasis set from Lawrence briefly appears in Leone's 1965 film For a Few Dollars More.)[citation needed] Many of the sets used or built for the film were re-used in later films, including John Milius's The Wind and the Lion (1975), which used several of the same palaces in Seville and the Aqaba set as the setting for its climactic battle, while the Plaza de España appears in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), as the Theed Palace.

The main musical title of the film was used in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) in the scene where Roger Moore and Barbara Bach's characters have to wander through the desert after their van breaks down. This was done as a joke by one of the editors who liked to play music from the film during the daily rushes.

The main musical title of the film was also used in the 1987 science fiction parody film Spaceballs, when the Winnebago crashes on the sand planet and the crew is forced to walk the desert.

Film director Steven Spielberg considers this his favourite film of all time and the one that convinced him to become a filmmaker.[57] Screenwriter William Monahan, who scripted Kingdom of Heaven and The Departed, among others, is a fan of Robert Bolt and has stated on numerous occasions that viewing Lawrence is what inspired him to be a screenwriter.

The scene of Lawrence showing off the 'match trick' is shown, converted into 3D, in Ridley Scott's 2012 film Prometheus. A piece of viral marketing for the film starring Guy Pearce also references the scene at a TED conference in 2032, and Michael Fassbender's android character David 8 in the film models his looks and voice after O'Toole's in Lawrence of Arabia.


Main article: A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia

In 1990, the made-for-television film A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia was aired. It depicts events in the lives of Lawrence and Faisal subsequent to Lawrence of Arabia and featured Ralph Fiennes as Lawrence and Alexander Siddig as Prince Faisal. The film dealt primarily with the attempts of Lawrence and Faisal to secure independence for Arabia during the 1919 Versailles Conference following the end of World War I. A principal departure from the earlier film shows Faisal closer in age to Lawrence, and in sometimes troubled roles of friendship and collaboration with him—a clear echo of Lawrence's friendship with Sherif Ali in the original. The film was generally well received and deals more with the political ramifications of Lawrence's efforts in the Middle East.

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