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The English Soldier of Arab Dreams
Nov 21, 2005 12:49 AM 1377 Views
(Updated Nov 21, 2005 12:49 AM)

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The year is 1916… The battle for supremacy of Europe and the World is at its crescendo … England, France, Austria, Turkey and Germany are all in the thick of their greatest adventure – World War I – and the entire world order is watching the results with bated breath. In Europe, the Allied Forces are suffering major reverses against the upstart Germany – France is besieged, Russia has been defeated, Italy and US are still neutral - To save itself from defeat and humiliation, it has become imperative for England to ensure naval supremacy at all costs and thus prevent Germany or it’s allies from getting a foothold in the Atlantic or the Mediterranean.


From a naval point of view, one of the most important and strategic locations in this game of death happens to be the Suez Canal, situated on the strategic point where the Red Sea meets the Mediterranean. The site of many a brutal fights down history, the city and the canal on the city are the key to controlling the naval lines and by implication the war. Although the British control the Canal, the Turkish Empire is very much in a position to strike and divest this bastion of British supremacy and thereby threaten the British supremacy over the seas. The sharing of the spoils of the tottering Ottoman Empire that extends from Asia Minor to the oilfields of Arabia is an added incentive to the colonial powers. But, the Turks can only be contained if somehow the Arabs can be enticed to align themselves with the Allied Forces. However this is easier said than done… for the Arabs would rather be under the suzerainty of the Caliphate than revolt against his banner. Only one man can do the impossible… Only one man can ensure the support of the Arabs to the Allied forces… The British call him Lt. Lawrence … He calls himself T.E. Lawrence…. The world calls him Lawrence of Arabia…


Lawrence of Arabia by David Lean is a brilliant movie on the life and times of one of the greatest military figures of the First World War. He is all the more fascinating as the man was no more a general than you and me but he managed to lead a highly inexperienced army of Arab Bedouins to success after success, managed to single-handedly change the equations of war and bring back the Arabs to prominence on the world stage about 1000 years after they had relinquished it to the Turk tribes.


Peter O’Toole as Lawrence expertly portrays the portrait of a man who could be stubborn and stupid but who at his heart was a man of deep emotions and mixed loyalties. Watching him perform, one can not help but be deeply impressed with a man who sought to be fair and ended up fouled and used by all – his British masters, his Arab friends and his Turkish enemies. So brilliant is his portrayal of the man that one cannot but feel for the man in the climactic scene wherein he is a silent observer of the games and machinations of the Allied Forces. His performance in the entire movie is noteworthy but one is specifically mesmerized by his performance in the climax scenes.


Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali turns in a mind-blowing performance. The Egyptian actor portrays the fearless courage of the Arab in the face of adversity and death with consummate ease and panache and you will be hard-pressed to remember a better portrayal of an Arab tribesman once you see him perform. Equally poignant is his despair and frustration when he fails to persuade Lawrence from the doomed path as well as in he scene wherein he realizes all is lost. Right from the first scene of his introduction to his animosity in the beginning to his deep love and respect in the end for Lawrence, the actor is brilliant in his first international assignment.


Anthony Quinn as Abu Tayi plays the role of a marauding Arab tribe leader and bandit with a heart of gold and a temper to perfection. The great actor that he was, Quinn not only stands tall among all actors he also brings to mind one another facet of Arab nature – their lust for honour, revenge, wealth and power. The scene wherein he’s frantically searching for an instrument of honour to take back home as a trophy of success is both comical as well as deep in it’s interpretations.


Alec Guinness as Prince Feisal is performance personified in the role of a king waiting to reclaim his kingdom from the Turks and the British. His scenes with Lawrence initially and with Jack Hawkins and Claude Rains towards the end are brilliant portrayals of a man playing the traditional Arab game of arm diplomacy. “You are merely a General; I must be a King” – who can forget that dialogue as spoken by the great Guinness in his own inimitable style.


Jack Hawkins as General Allenby is brilliant in his depiction of a wartime general who thinks of nothing when it comes to taking care of his war strategies. He is equally well supported by Claude Rains as the diplomat who gets Lawrence on the job and ensures him out of it once the work is done. Anthony Quayle plays the role of Col Brighton to perfection. The scene wherein he reprimands Lawrence in presence of Prince Feisal and Ali gives a glimpse of his brilliant repertoire. Arthur Kennedy as the American journalist, Jackson Bentley does justice to his role. Jose Ferrer is wasted in his two-blinks role as the Turk Bey.


David Lean has managed to weave together a brilliant saga of faith, camaraderie, betrayal and power struggles on the canvas of World War I. Interestingly although there be many movies on WWII, this movie is undoubtedly the most brilliant ever on WWI. That it deals with the backdrop of the exploitation of a common man by super-powers for their own ends is of course an added glimmer to the whole story. Indeed the directorial abilities of the great Lean need no introduction for the man has been a man behind many cinematic successes. The brilliance with which the director has portrayed the desert has no equal among the Hollywood directors and his is definitely the definitive movie on the Arab struggle in World War I. The characterizations, the perfect etching out of roles and parts and demarcation of characters is something that is so brilliant in he movie. There have been scores of multi-starrers that have failed in this regard and hence this movie would do well as a lesson for learning filmmakers.


As you leave the film, the one thing that haunts you deeply is a dialogue by Lawrence …’There may be honour among thieves, but there's none in politicians.’


Could it have been said any better? I don’t think so…


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