Nicole Kidman’s new film “Queen of the Desert” may have fallen below your movie radar, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Kidman stars as Gretrude Bell, a British traveler, explorer, archaeologist, cartographer, and political officer. So needless to say Bell was a busy lady and was admired, most of all by the those in the Middle East she helped in the Hashemite dynasties which eventually formed into the countries of Jordan and Iraq.
The film begins when the restless Bell is in her early 20’s and anxious to escape the confines of the United Kingdom for the deserts of the Middle East, where she can explore. Her father soon realized he cannot contain his daughter so off for the Middle East Bell goes. In her journeys she meets many interesting characters, including Tehran embassy secretary Henry Cadogan (James Franco), who sweeps the adventurous Bell off her feet. After several unfortunate circumstances, the star-crossed lovers are no more, and the heartbroken Bell heads once more into her beloved desert. During her journeys, Bell becomes friends with T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia, played by Robert Pattinson), who is able to get her further connections with other leaders of dynasties she longed to meet. Another important man in her life is Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damian Lewis), a British Army officer who falls in love with the wayward explorer. The parring with Charles also meets with an unhappy result, and forces Bell to rethink her plans for the future. Bell completely throws herself into her work, and eventually becomes extremely important to the British government and loved by the residents of the deserts she explored. She was so admired by the natives she came in contact with, she was dubbed “Queen of the desert”.
Bell was most at home in the Middle East, and was never intimidated by the residents, no matter how powerful. She considered the area magical, and lived in the area until her death in 1926. Kidman does a wonderful job in the role of Bell, and easily conveyed the love the explorer felt for the region and its residents. Plus, due to the height of the actress, Kidman makes for an intimidating presence on and off camels. As for her co-stars, Lewis is wonderful in the role of her second love interest Charles, and Franco is pleasant in the role of her first love Henry, despite struggling with a British accent. Director Werner Herzog (“Salt and Fire”) does a masterful in presenting the desert as a majestic and mysterious place, while creating a wonderful atmosphere for the actors. This is not a film for those who like constant action, explosions, and an overabundance of wise cracks. “Queen of the Desert” is a film for those who want to experience the fascinating true-life experiences of an amazing woman named Gertrude Bell.
(Rated PG-13) *** 1/2