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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 5, 2016

Queen Of The Desert Movie Review: Nicole Kidman's Radiance Not Enough To Redeem An Often Lifeless Movie

‘QUEEN OF THE DESERT’ is not about Priscilla. It’s a biographical drama on Gertrude Bell, a British writer and archaeologist who chronicled the lives of Bedouin tribes in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She became an influential name in British politics and history because of the contacts she made during her risky journeys across the Middle East deserts. She may be considered the female counterpart of Lawrence of Arabia, who also appears in the movie played by Robert Pattinson of “Twilight”.

We first see Gertrude (Nicole Kidman) as a young woman longing for adventure and bored with her sheltered life in England. She convinces her parents to let her travel and she goes to Tehran (of what is then Persia, now Iran) where she meets Henry Cadogan (James Franco), who works in the Tehran embassy. They fall in love and Henry offers her marriage but her father rejects Henry, who soon dies tragically.

She then decides to travel to unknown exotic places across the desert at a time that the Ottoman Empire is crumbling. She finds new romance in a consul, Charles Doughty Wylie (Damian Lewis of “Homeland”), who happens to be married. But they are not ready to defy tradition, with their epistolary love affair carried out mainly through an exchange of letters, and their romance also ends in tragedy. Gertrude never gets married until she passes in 1926, after meeting some very powerful sheiks in the desert who eventually become kings of their respective countries.

Nicole Kidman in the title role gives a superlative portrayal as the very brave and determined heroine, often radiant and luminous as she defies several men who try to thwart her plans. She frequently supplies the energy and vitality that the script often lacks. The film is beautifully shot, with the impressive cinematography full of gorgeous desert scenery, but it is no “Lawrence of Arabia” by David Lean which is really more epic in scope and execution.

Written and directed by German filmmaker Werner Herzog (best known for acclaimed films like “Aguirre, Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo”), the narrative lacks passion and is often sluggishly told. It just fails to be a vibrant and fulfilling examination of a daring woman who is very much ahead of her time. Her exploits are so under-dramatized that you wonder how she becomes a powerful figure in the British empire. You don’t even get to fully grasp the nitty gritty of why she chooses to leave her rich and comfortable life in England to face the dangers offered by her African adventures. The film fails even in terms of coming up with a more coherent historical profile of Ms. Bell.

We’re sure the real Gertrude had a much deeper motivation in journeying into forbidding unchartered territories. There seems to be a truly involving story to be told about Ms. Bell, but sorry, it’s not in this often lifeless movie that does more of a disservice to her. Pattinson looks miserably miscast as Lawrence while Franco doesn’t have any chemistry with Nicole. It’s only Lewis as the married officer who hits it off really well with Nicole on the big screen. This movie has yet to be released in the States, but it’s now showing locally in Ayala Cinemas. It premiered as an entry in the recent Berlinale, where it was outshone by our own entry from Lav Diaz.