Kidman is ‘Queen’

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Werner Herzog revisits the tale of the “Queen of the Desert” Gertrude Bell, a British explorer, traveler and archaeologist, through his feature film of the same name coming to theaters this Friday, April 7. After directing many male-led features, and six years since his last feature, Herzog drives on to direct a well-casted female lead, Nicole Kidman, who plays the aristocratic leader Gertrude Bell.

With sharp intentions, Herzog narrates the story of a strong woman who is inspired to move away from her family because of the mundane reasons for a damsel in distress, such as pressures from her noble family and the resolution of her two past love affairs. Instead, she moves on to do something bigger—create the nation states in the Middle East.

True to its time period, the film does everything right as it draws out the historical background decorated by the accents and clothing, which is complemented by a unique and contemporary casting, with James Franco as Henry Cadogan and Damian Lewis as Charles DoughtyWylie (Kidman’s two love interests), and finally Robert Pattinson as T.E. Lawrence, who could be best deemed as Bell’s counterpart for the time.

The film begins as the educated Gertrude Bell is chastised by her parents after she is rejected by her suitors for being too intelligent. She begs her father to leave and is sent to the British Embassy in Tehran, Persia where she formulates a relationship with Henry Cadogan, which includes no more than lust and poetry. After the sign of his death, Bell seeks out Bedouin tribesmen and the desert where she meets T.E. Lawrence. They share a few laughs and talk about politics before Bell travels on to search for the Turkish people.

During her travels she meets another British officer, Charles Doughty-Wylie who approaches her with a rocky start, and is angry at her desire to travel. But, with an exchange of pistols, Wylie changes to being interested in Gertrude Bell. Bell continues her journey to meet the Sheik and hands over the pistols.

With a budding relationship between Bell and Wylie, tension grows as Bell refuses to continue the relationship as Wylie was already married but maintained communication on a business level. As Bell continued to meet many leaders of the Middle East, she increased her rapport and soon became the “Queen of the Desert” as she drew borders between today’s Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Jordan.

The seemingly long narration of the biopic portrayed Kidman as a strong-faced woman who faced all leaders with determination and nothing less. Other than that, the casting of James Franco and the minor role of Robert Pattinson seems unique but also miscast.

The relationships between Bell and these male leads were almost minute due to the small amount of screen space for the actors, but was too refreshing to go unnoticed. The only seemingly meaningful relationship in the film was between Bell and Wylie which was continued by the letters that they had exchanged, as opposed to the coin that was given to Bell from Cadogan.

The roles of these characters were complimented by the landscape of the period film, often with the sand of the desert and camels filling the screen. With the frequent changes of the locations, detailed labels of the time periods and musical theme of the film, it created a very different aura from an ordinary period film. Although the film is increasingly inspiring, its length and the limitation of its actors lead to the film taking too long before making its statement.