Trying to find the essence of British adventurer T.E. Lawrence, a reporter seeks the truth at the church commemorating his death and David Lean’s Oscar-laden epic flashes back to Egypt and the war years. As a dishevelled young lieutenant, Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) wants to leave his Cairo desk and head for the desert and his wish is granted by Mr Dryden (Claude Rains), who sends him to assess the progress of the Anglo-French-sponsored Arab revolt.
He finds the revolution stalled, with its leader Prince Feisel (Alec Guinness) resigned to let the British forces do the work. Seeing that a miracle is needed to motivate the Arabs, Lawrence invents one by leading an invasion force and capturing the Turkish city of Aqaba but forced to shoot one of his rebellious troops, Lawrence returns to Cairo in remorseful mood. There, General Allenby (Jack Hawkins), not sharing Lawrence’s self-doubt, provides enough weapons and money to sustain a period of guerilla warfare that sees the young soldier lionized as Lawrence of Arabia and revered throughout the Empire.
With Alexander Korda thwarted by war, the first Lawrence movie was abandoned. Two decades later, Rank cast Dirk Bogarde and balked at the intended budget. It was left to Sam Spiegel to buy the rights and hire David Lean. Albert Finney, Montgomery Clift, Dirk Bogarde and Richard Burton were suggested for the lead, but Spiegel was persuaded to cast O’Toole, who would gain an unsuccessful Oscar nomination (the first of seven, the same number won by the film in 1963).
The late Robert Bolt’s screenplay was savaged for inaccuracy (which misses the point that from the first frame Lean is telling us that the truth about this legend can be found elsewhere). Yet the writer’s poetic stance is irresistible, and his decision to use only Lawrence’s own writings vindicated. The 70mm scope was a publicity coup, with Tommy Steele pouring sand from his shoes at the premiere as a tribute to the detail, and audiences convinced that a four-hour biopic could thrill.
Oscars were won for Best Picture, Direction of David Lean, Cinematography of Frederick A. Young and the Music of Maurice Jarre.
UK | Columbia – Horizon | 216 minutes | 1962
Director: David Lean
Script: Michael Wilson, Robert Bolt, T.E. Lawrence,
Peter O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence
Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali
Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal
Howard Marion-Crawford as Medical Officer
James Hayter as Sheik in Arab Council (uncredited)
Henry Oscar as Silliam
José Ferrer as Turkish Bey
Claude Rains as Mr. Dryden
Arthur Kennedy as Jackson Bentley
Zia Mohyeddin as Tafas
Clive Morton as Artillery General at Field Briefing (uncredited)
Harry Fowler as William Potter (uncredited)
Jack Hawkins as General Allenby
Jack Hedley as Reporter
Jack Gwillim as Club Secretary
Donald Wolfit as General Murray
Bruce Beeby as Captain at Officer’s Club (uncredited)
Peter Burton as Damascus sheik
Anthony Quayle as Colonel Harry Brighton
John Bennett as (uncredited)
Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi
I.S. Johar as Gasim
Gamil Ratib as Majid
Michel Ray as Farraj
John Dimech as Daud
Hugh Miller as R.A.M.C. Colonel
Robert Rietty as Majid (voice)
John Barry as MP in Map Room (uncredited)
Steve Birtles as Motor Bike Rider (uncredited)
David Lean as Motorcyclist by Suez Canal (uncredited)
Robert Bolt as Officer with Pipe Gazing at Lawrence (uncredited)
Daniel Moynihan as Officer in Officer’s Club (uncredited)
Barry Warren as Arab Sheik (uncredited)
J.R.M. Chapman as Extra (uncredited)
Basil Dignam as Cavalry General at Field Briefing (uncredited)
Peter Dukelow as Driver in Cairo (uncredited)
Bryan Pringle as Driver (uncredited)
Mohamed El Habachi as Talal (uncredited)
Kenneth Fortescue as Allenby’s Aide (uncredited)
Fernando Sancho as Turkish sergeant
Noel Howlett as Vicar at St. Paul’s (uncredited)
Patrick Kavanagh as Staff Major – Murray’s Aide (uncredited)
Ian MacNaughton as Michael George Hartley
George Plimpton as Bedouin (uncredited)
Ernie Rice as Mourner at St. Paul’s (uncredited)
John Robinson as Infantry General at Field Briefing (uncredited)
Norman Rossington as Corporal Jenkins (uncredited)
John Ruddock as Elder Harith (uncredited)
Stuart Saunders as Regimental Sergeant Major
Cyril Shaps as Bartender in Officer’s Club (uncredited)
Roy Stevens as Truck Driver (uncredited)
Rafael Hernández as Turkish Soldier (uncredited)
Fred Bennett as Sergeant at Cairo Headquarters (uncredited)
Barbara Cole as Nurse
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