Lawrence of Arabia (film)
|Lawrence of Arabia|
Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
|Directed by||David Lean|
|Produced by||Sam Spiegel|
|Based on||Seven Pillars of Wisdom
by T. E. Lawrence
|Music by||Maurice Jarre|
|Edited by||Anne V. Coates|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$70 million|
Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 epic historical drama film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. It was directed by David Lean and produced by Sam Spiegel through his British company Horizon Pictures, with the screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. Starring Peter O’Toole in the title role, the film depicts Lawrence’s experiences in the Arabian Peninsula during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and his involvement in the Arab National Council. Its themes include Lawrence’s emotional struggles with the personal violence inherent in war, his own identity, and his divided allegiance between his native Britain and its army, and his new-found comrades within the Arabian desert tribes. As well as O’Toole, the film stars Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains and Arthur Kennedy.
Lawrence of Arabia was nominated for ten Oscars at the 35th Academy Awards in 1963; it won seven in total, including Best Picture and Best Director. It also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Dramaand the BAFTA Awards for Best Film and Outstanding British Film. In the years since, it has been recognised one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of cinema. The dramatic score by Maurice Jarre and the Super Panavision 70 cinematography by Freddie Young are also highly acclaimed. In 1991, Lawrence of Arabia was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation in the US Library of Congress National Film Registry. In 1998, the American Film Institute placed it 5th on their 100 Years…100 Movies list, and 7th on their 2007 updated list. In 1999, the British Film Institute named the film the 3rd greatest British film of all time.
The film is presented in two parts, divided by an intermission.
The film opens in 1935 when Lawrence is killed in a motorcycle accident. At his memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral, a reporter tries (with little success) to gain insights into this remarkable, enigmatic man from those who knew him.
The story then moves backward to the First World War, where Lawrence is a misfit British Army lieutenant, notable for his insolence and education. Over the objections of General Murray, Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau sends him to assess the prospects of Prince Faisalin his revolt against the Turks. On the journey, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sherif Ali for drinking from his well without permission. Lawrence later meets Colonel Brighton, who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment, and leave. Lawrence ignores Brighton’s orders when he meets Faisal. His outspokenness piques the prince’s interest.
Brighton advises Faisal to retreat after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes a daring surprise attack on Aqaba; its capture would provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies. The town is strongly fortified against a naval assault but only lightly defended on the landward side. He convinces Faisal to provide fifty men, led by a sceptical Sherif Ali. Teenage orphans Daud and Farraj attach themselves to Lawrence as servants. They cross the Nefud Desert, considered impassable even by the Bedouins, travelling day and night on the last stage to reach water. One of Ali’s men, Gasim, succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel unnoticed during the night. When Lawrence discovers him missing, he turns back and rescues Gasim—and Sherif Ali is won over. He gives Lawrence Arab robes to wear.
Lawrence persuades Auda abu Tayi, the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, to turn against the Turks. Lawrence’s scheme is almost derailed when one of Ali’s men kills one of Auda’s because of a blood feud. Howeitat retaliation would shatter the fragile alliance, so Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. He is then stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the very man whom he risked his own life to save in the desert, but he shoots him anyway.
The next morning, the Arabs overrun the Turkish garrison. Lawrence heads to Cairo to inform Dryden and the new commander, General Allenby, of his victory. While crossing the Sinai Desert, Daud dies when he stumbles into quicksand. Lawrence is promoted to majorand given arms and money for the Arabs. He is deeply disturbed, however, confessing that he enjoyed executing Gasim, but Allenby brushes aside his qualms. He asks Allenby whether there is any basis for the Arabs’ suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia. When pressed, the general states that they do not.
Lawrence launches a guerrilla war, blowing up trains and harassing the Turks at every turn. American war correspondent Jackson Bentley publicises Lawrence’s exploits, making him famous. On one raid, Farraj is badly injured. Unwilling to leave him to be tortured by the enemy, Lawrence shoots him dead before fleeing.
When Lawrence scouts the enemy-held city of Deraa with Ali, he is taken, along with several Arab residents, to the Turkish Bey. Lawrence is stripped, ogled, and prodded. Then, for striking out at the Bey, he is severely flogged before being thrown into the street. The experience leaves Lawrence shaken. He returns to British headquarters in Cairo but does not fit in.
Lawrence recruits an army that is motivated more by money than by the Arab cause. They sight a column of retreating Turkish soldiers who have just massacred the residents of Tafas. One of Lawrence’s men is from Tafas; he demands, “No prisoners!” When Lawrence hesitates, the man charges the Turks alone and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man’s battle cry; the result is a slaughter in which Lawrence himself participates. Afterwards, he regrets his actions.
Lawrence’s men take Damascus ahead of Allenby’s forces. The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but the desert tribesmen prove ill-suited for such a task. Despite Lawrence’s efforts, they bicker constantly. Unable to maintain the public utilities, the Arabs soon abandon most of the city to the British.
Lawrence is promoted to colonel and immediately ordered back to Britain, as his usefulness to both Faisal and the British is at an end. As he leaves the city, his automobile is passed by a motorcyclist who leaves a trail of dust in his wake.
- Peter O’Toole as T. E. Lawrence. Albert Finney was a virtual unknown at the time, but he was Lean’s first choice to play Lawrence. Finney was cast and began principal photography but was fired after two days for reasons that are still unclear. Marlon Brando was also offered the part, and Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were briefly considered before O’Toole was cast. Alec Guinness had previously played Lawrence in the play Ross and was briefly considered for the part, but David Lean and Sam Spiegel thought him too old. Lean had seen O’Toole in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England and was bowled over by his screen test, proclaiming “This is Lawrence!” Spiegel disliked Montgomery Clift, having worked with him on Suddenly, Last Summer. Spiegel eventually acceded to Lean’s choice, though he disliked O’Toole after seeing him in an unsuccessful screen test for Suddenly, Last Summer. Pictures of Lawrence suggest also that O’Toole bore some resemblance to him, in spite of their considerable height difference. O’Toole’s looks prompted a different reaction from Noël Coward, who quipped after seeing the première of the film, “If you had been any prettier, the film would have been called Florence of Arabia”.
- Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal. Faisal was originally to be portrayed by Laurence Olivier. Guinness performed in other David Lean films, and he got the part when Olivier dropped out. Guinness was made up to look as much like the real Faisal as possible; he recorded in his diaries that, while shooting in Jordan, he met several people who had known Faisal who actually mistook him for the late prince. Guinness said in interviews that he developed his Arab accent from a conversation that he had with Omar Sharif.
- Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi. Quinn got very much into his role; he spent hours applying his own makeup, using a photograph of the real Auda to make himself look as much like him as he could. One anecdote has Quinn arriving on-set for the first time in full costume, whereupon Lean mistook him for a native and asked his assistant to ring Quinn and notify him that they were replacing him with the new arrival.
- Jack Hawkins as General Allenby. Sam Spiegel pushed Lean to cast Cary Grant or Laurence Olivier (who was engaged at the Chichester Festival Theatre and declined). Lean, however, convinced him to choose Hawkins because of his work for them on The Bridge on the River Kwai. Hawkins shaved his head for the role and reportedly clashed with Lean several times during filming. Guinness recounted that Hawkins was reprimanded by Lean for celebrating the end of a day’s filming with an impromptu dance. Hawkins became close friends with O’Toole during filming, and the two often improvised dialogue during takes to Lean’s dismay.
- Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali. The role was offered to many actors before Sharif was cast. Horst Buchholz was the first choice, but had already signed on for the film One, Two, Three. Alain Delon had a successful screen test but ultimately declined because of the brown contact lenses he would have had to wear. Maurice Ronet and Dilip Kumar were also considered. Sharif, who was already a major star in the Middle East, was originally cast as Lawrence’s guide Tafas, but when the aforementioned actors proved unsuitable, Sharif was shifted to the part of Ali.
- José Ferrer as the Turkish Bey. Ferrer was initially unsatisfied with the small size of his part and accepted the role only on the condition of being paid $25,000 (more than O’Toole and Sharif combined) plus a Porsche. However, he afterwards considered this his best film performance, saying in an interview: “If I was to be judged by any one film performance, it would be my five minutes in Lawrence.” Peter O’Toole once said that he learned more about screen acting from Ferrer than he could in any acting class.
- Anthony Quayle as Colonel Harry Brighton. Quayle, a veteran of military roles, was cast after Jack Hawkins, the original choice, was shifted to the part of Allenby. Quayle and Lean argued over how to portray the character, with Lean feeling Brighton to be an honourable character, while Quayle thought him an idiot.
- Claude Rains as Mr. Dryden. Lawrence is Dryden’s protégé.
- Arthur Kennedy as Jackson Bentley. In the early days of the production, when the Bentley character had a more prominent role in the film, Kirk Douglas was considered for the part; Douglas expressed interest but demanded a star salary and the highest billing after O’Toole and thus was turned down by Spiegel. Later, Edmond O’Brien was cast in the part. O’Brien filmed the Jerusalem scene, and (according to Omar Sharif) Bentley’s political discussion with Ali, but he suffered a heart attack on location and had to be replaced at the last moment by Kennedy, who was recommended to Lean by Anthony Quinn.
- Donald Wolfit as General Murray.
- Michel Ray as Farraj. At the time, Ray was an up-and-coming Anglo-Brazilian actor who had previously appeared in several films, including Irving Rapper‘s The Brave One and Anthony Mann‘s The Tin Star.
- I. S. Johar as Gasim. Johar was a well-known Indian actor who occasionally appeared in international productions.
- Zia Mohyeddin as Tafas. Mohyeddin was one of Pakistan’s best-known actors.
- Gamil Ratib as Majid. Ratib was a veteran Egyptian actor. His English was not considered good enough, so he was dubbed by Robert Rietti in the final film.
- Ian MacNaughton as Michael George Hartley, Lawrence’s companion in O’Toole’s first scene.
- John Dimech as Daud.
- Hugh Miller as the RAMC colonel. Miller worked on several of Lean’s films as a dialogue coach and was one of several members of the film crew to be given bit parts (see below).
- Fernando Sancho as the Turkish sergeant.
- Stuart Saunders as the regimental sergeant major.
- Jack Gwillim as the club secretary. Gwillim was recommended to Lean for the film by close friend Quayle.
- Kenneth Fortescue as Allenby’s aide.
- Harry Fowler as Corporal Potter.
- Howard Marion-Crawford as the medical officer. Marion-Crawford was cast at the last possible minute during the filming of the “Damascus” scenes in Seville.
- John Ruddock as Elder Harith.
- Norman Rossington as Corporal Jenkins.
- Jack Hedley as a reporter.
- Henry Oscar as Silliam, Faisal’s servant.
- Peter Burton as a Damascus sheik.
The crew consisted of over 200 people, with the cast and extras included this number would increase to over 1000 people working to make the film. Various members of the film’s crew portrayed minor characters. First assistant director Roy Stevens played the truck driver who transports Lawrence and Farraj to the Cairo HQ at the end of Act I; the Sergeant who stops Lawrence and Farraj (“Where do you think you’re going to, Mustapha?”) is construction assistant Fred Bennett, and screenwriter Robert Bolt has a wordless cameo as one of the officers watching Allenby and Lawrence confer in the courtyard (he is smoking a pipe). Steve Birtles, the film’s gaffer, plays the motorcyclist at the Suez Canal; Lean himself is rumoured to be the voice shouting “Who are you?” Continuity supervisor Barbara Cole appears as one of the nurses in the Damascus hospital scene.
- Nonfictional characters
- T. E. Lawrence
- Prince Faisal
- Auda ibu Tayi
- General Allenby
- General Murray
- Farraj and Daud, Lawrence’s servants
- Gasim, the man whom Lawrence rescues from the desert
- Talal, who charges the Turkish column at Tafas
- Fictional characters
- Sherif Ali: A combination of numerous Arab leaders, particularly Sharif Nassir—Faisal’s cousin—who led the Harith forces involved in the attack on Aqaba. The character was created largely because Lawrence did not serve with any one Arab leader (aside from Auda) throughout the majority of the war; most such leaders were amalgamated in Ali’s character.
- Mr Dryden: The cynical Arab Bureau official was based loosely on numerous figures, including Sir Ronald Storrs, who was head of the Arab Bureau and later the governor of Palestine. It was largely Storrs’ doing that Lawrence first met Faisal and became involved with the Revolt. This character is also partially based upon Lawrence’s archaeologist friend D. G. Hogarth, as well as Henry McMahon, who historically fulfilled Dryden’s role as a political liaison. He was created by the screenwriters to “represent the civilian and political wing of British interests, to balance Allenby’s military objectives.”
- Colonel Brighton: In essence a composite of all of the British officers who served in the Middle East with Lawrence, most notably Lt. Col. S.F. Newcombe. Newcombe played much the same role as Brighton does in the film, being Lawrence’s predecessor as liaison to the Arab Revolt; he and many of his men were captured by the Turks in 1916, but he later escaped. Also, like Brighton, Newcombe was not well liked by the Arabs, though he remained friends with Lawrence. (In Michael Wilson’s original script, he was Colonel Newcombe; the character’s name was changed by Robert Bolt.) Brighton was apparently created to represent how ordinary British soldiers would feel about a man like Lawrence: impressed by his accomplishments but repulsed by his affected manner. (Lean argued that Brighton was “the only honourable character” in the film, whereas Anthony Quayle referred to his character as an “idiot”.)
- Turkish Bey: The Turkish Bey who captures Lawrence in Deraa was—according to Lawrence himself—General Hajim Bey (in Turkish, Hacim Muhiddin Bey), though he is not named in the film. The incident was mentioned in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Some biographers (Jeremy Wilson, John Mack) argue that Lawrence’s account is to be believed; others (Michael Asher, Lawrence James) argue that contemporary evidence suggests that Lawrence never went to Deraa at this time and that the story is invented.
- Jackson Bentley: Based on famed American journalist Lowell Thomas, who helped make Lawrence famous with accounts of his bravery. However, Thomas was a young man at the time who spent only a few days (or weeks at most) with Lawrence in the field—unlike Bentley, who is depicted as a cynical middle-aged Chicago newspaperman who is present during the whole of Lawrence’s later campaigns. Bentley was the narrator in Wilson’s original script, but Bolt reduced his role significantly for the final script. Thomas did not start reporting on Lawrence until after the end of World War I, and held Lawrence in high regard, unlike Bentley, who seems to view Lawrence in terms of a story that he can write about.
- Tafas: Lawrence’s guide to Faisal is based on his actual guide Sheikh Obeid el-Rashid of the Hazimi branch of the Beni Salem, whom Lawrence referred to as Tafas several times in Seven Pillars. Tafas and Lawrence did meet Sherif Ali at a well during Lawrence’s travels to Faisal, but the encounter was not fatal for either party. (Indeed, this scene created much controversy among Arab viewers.)
- Medical officer: This unnamed officer who confronts Lawrence in Damascus is based on an officer mentioned in an incident in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence’s meeting the officer again while in British uniform was, however, an invention of Wilson or Bolt.
Most of the film’s characters are based on real characters to varying degrees.
Some scenes were heavily fictionalised, such as the attack on Aqaba, while those dealing with the Arab Council were inaccurate, inasmuch as the council remained more or less in power in Syria until France deposed Faisal in 1920. Little background is provided on the history of the region, the First World War, and the Arab Revolt, probably because of Bolt’s increased focus on Lawrence (while Wilson’s draft script had a broader, more politicised version of events). The second half of the film portrayed a completely fictional depiction of Lawrence’s Arab army deserting almost to a man as he moved further north. The film’s timeline is frequently questionable on the Arab Revolt and World War I, as well as the geography of the Hejaz region. For instance, Bentley interviews Faisal in late 1917, after the fall of Aqaba, saying that the United States has not yet entered the war, yet the US had been in the war for several months by that time. Further, Lawrence’s involvement in the Arab Revolt prior to the attack on Aqaba is completely excised, such as his involvement in the seizures of Yenbo and Wejh. The rescue and execution of Gasim is based on two separate incidents, which were conflated for dramatic reasons.
The film shows Lawrence representing the Allied cause in the Hejaz almost alone with only one British officer—Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle)—there to assist him. In fact, there were numerous British officers such as colonels Cyril Wilson, Stewart Francis Newcombe, and Pierce C. Joyce, all of whom arrived before Lawrence began serving in Arabia. In addition, there was a French military mission led by Colonel Edouard Brémond serving in the Hejaz, of which no mention is made in the film. The film shows Lawrence as the sole originator of the attacks on the Hejaz railroad. The first attacks on this began in early January 1917 led by officers such as Newcombe. The first successful attack on the Hejaz railroad with a locomotive-destroying “Garland mine” was led by Major Herbert Garland in February 1917, a month before Lawrence’s first attack.
The film shows the Hashemite forces as consisting of Bedouin guerrillas, whereas in fact the core of the Hashemite forces was the regular Arab Army recruited from Ottoman Arab POWs, who wore British-style uniforms with keffiyahs and fought in conventional battles. The film makes no mention of the Sharifian Army, and leaves the viewer with the impression that the Hashemite forces were composed exclusively of Bedouin irregulars.
Representation of Lawrence
Many complaints about the film’s accuracy concern the characterisation of Lawrence. The perceived problems with the portrayal begin with the differences in his physical appearance: the 6-foot-2-inch (1.88 m) Peter O’Toolewas almost 9 inches (23 cm) taller than the 5-foot-5-inch (1.65 m) man whom he played. His behaviour, however, has caused much more debate.
The screenwriters depict Lawrence as an egotist. The degree to which Lawrence sought or shunned attention is debatable, as evidenced by his use, after the war, of various assumed names. Even during the war, Lowell Thomas wrote in With Lawrence in Arabia that he could take pictures of him only by tricking him, although Lawrence did later agree to pose for several photos for Thomas’s stage show. Thomas’s famous comment that Lawrence “had a genius for backing into the limelight” referred to the fact that his extraordinary actions prevented him from being as private as he would have liked. Others disagree, pointing to Lawrence’s own writings to support the argument that he was egotistical.
Lawrence’s sexual orientation remains a controversial topic among historians. Bolt’s primary source was ostensibly Seven Pillars, but the film’s portrayal seems informed by Richard Aldington‘s Biographical Inquiry (1955), which posited Lawrence as a “pathological liar and exhibitionist”, as well as homosexual. This is opposed to his portrayal in Ross as “physically and spiritually recluse”. The film’s depiction of Lawrence as an active participant in the Tafas Massacre was disputed at the time by historians, including biographer Basil Liddell Hart, but most current biographers accept the film’s portrayal of the massacre as reasonably accurate.
The film does show that Lawrence could speak and read Arabic, could quote the Quran, and was reasonably knowledgeable about the region. It barely mentions his archaeological travels from 1911 to 1914 in Syria and Arabia, however, and ignores his espionage work, including a pre-war topographical survey of the Sinai Peninsula and his attempts to negotiate the release of British prisoners at Kut in Mesopotamia in 1916.
Furthermore, in the film, Lawrence is only made aware of the Sykes–Picot Agreement very late in the story and is shown to be appalled by it, whereas the real Lawrence knew about it much earlier, while fighting alongside the Arabs.
Lawrence’s biographers have had a mixed reaction towards the film. Authorised biographer Jeremy Wilson noted that the film has “undoubtedly influenced the perceptions of some subsequent biographers”, such as the depiction of the film’s Ali as the real Sherif Ali rather than a composite character, and also the highlighting of the Deraa incident. (In fairness to Lean and his writers, the Deraa connection was made by several Lawrence biographers, including Edward Robinson (Lawrence the Rebel) and Anthony Nutting (The Man and the Motive) before the film’s release). The film’s historical inaccuracies are, in Wilson’s view, more troublesome than what can be allowed under normal dramatic licence. At the time, Liddell Hart publicly criticised the film, engaging Bolt in a lengthy correspondence over its portrayal of Lawrence.
Representation of other characters
The film portrays General Allenby as cynical and manipulative, with a superior attitude to Lawrence, but there is much evidence that Allenby and Lawrence respected and liked each other. Lawrence once said that Allenby was “an admiration of mine” and later that he was “physically large and confident and morally so great that the comprehension of our littleness came slow to him”. The fictional Allenby’s words at Lawrence’s funeral in the film stand in contrast to the real Allenby’s remarks upon Lawrence’s death: “I have lost a good friend and a valued comrade. Lawrence was under my command, but, after acquainting him with my strategical plan, I gave him a free hand. His co-operation was marked by the utmost loyalty, and I never had anything but praise for his work, which, indeed, was invaluable throughout the campaign.” Allenby also spoke highly of him numerous times and, much to Lawrence’s delight, publicly endorsed the accuracy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Allenby did manipulate Lawrence during the war, but their relationship lasted for years after its end, indicating that in real life they were friendly, if not close. The Allenby family was particularly upset by the Damascus scenes, where Allenby coldly allows the town to fall into chaos as the Arab Council collapses.
Similarly, General Murray was initially sceptical of the Arab Revolt’s potential, but he thought highly of Lawrence’s abilities as an intelligence officer; indeed, it was largely through Lawrence’s persuasion that Murray came to support the revolt. The intense dislike shown toward Lawrence in the film is in fact the opposite of Murray’s real feelings, although for his part Lawrence seemed not to hold Murray in any high regard.
The depiction of Auda abu Tayi as a man interested only in loot and money is also at odds with the historical record. Auda did at first join the revolt for monetary reasons, but he quickly became a steadfast supporter of Arab independence, notably after Aqaba’s capture. He refused repeated bribery attempts by the Turks (though he happily pocketed their money) and remained loyal to the revolt, going so far as to knock out his false teeth, which were Turkish made. He was present with Lawrence from the beginning of the Aqaba expedition and in fact helped plan it along with Lawrence and Prince Faisal.
Faisal was far from being the middle-aged man depicted and was in his early 30s at the time of the revolt. Faisal and Lawrence respected each other’s capabilities and intelligence. They worked well together.
The reactions of those who knew Lawrence and the other characters say much about the film’s veracity. The most vehement critic of its accuracy was Professor A. W. (Arnold) Lawrence, the protagonist’s younger brother and literary executor, who had sold the rights to Seven Pillars of Wisdom to Spiegel for £25,000. Arnold Lawrence went on a campaign in the United States and Britain denouncing the film, famously saying, “I should not have recognised my own brother”. In one pointed talk show appearance, he remarked that he had found the film “pretentious and false”. He went on to say that his brother was “one of the nicest, kindest and most exhilarating people I’ve known. He often appeared cheerful when he was unhappy.” Later, Arnold said to the New York Times, “[The film is] a psychological recipe. Take an ounce of narcissism, a pound of exhibitionism, a pint of sadism, a gallon of blood-lust and a sprinkle of other aberrations and stir well.” Lowell Thomas was also critical of the portrayal of Lawrence and most of the film’s characters, believing that the train attack scenes were the only reasonably accurate aspect of the film.
The criticisms were not restricted to Lawrence. The Allenby family lodged a formal complaint against Columbia about the portrayal of him. Descendants of Auda abu Tayi and the real Sherif Ali went further, suing Columbia despite the fact that the film’s Ali was fictional. The Auda case went on for almost 10 years before it was dropped.
The film has its defenders. Biographer Michael Korda, author of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, offers a different opinion. The film is neither “the full story of Lawrence’s life or a completely accurate account of the two years he spent fighting with the Arabs,” yet Korda argues that criticising its inaccuracy “misses the point”: “The object was to produce, not a faithful docudrama that would educate the audience, but a hit picture.” Stephen E. Tabachnick goes further than Korda, arguing that the film’s portrayal of Lawrence is “appropriate and true to the text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom“. British historian of the Arab Revolt David Murphy wrote that, though the film was flawed due to various inaccuracies and omissions, “it was a truly epic movie and is rightly seen as a classic”.
Previous films about T. E. Lawrence had been planned but had not been made. In the 1940s, Alexander Korda was interested in filming The Seven Pillars of Wisdom with Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, or Robert Donat as Lawrence, but had to pull out owing to financial difficulties. David Lean had been approached to direct a 1952 version for the Rank Organisation, but the project fell through. At the same time as pre-production of the film, Terence Rattigan was developing his play Ross which centred primarily on Lawrence’s alleged homosexuality. Ross had begun as a screenplay, but was re-written for the stage when the film project fell through. Sam Spiegel grew furious and attempted to have the play suppressed, which helped to gain publicity for the film. Dirk Bogarde had accepted the role in Ross; he described the cancellation of the project as “my bitterest disappointment”. Alec Guinness played the role on stage.
Lean and Sam Spiegel had worked together on The Bridge on the River Kwai and decided to collaborate again. For a time, Lean was interested in a biopic of Gandhi, with Alec Guinness to play the title role and Emeric Pressburger writing the screenplay. He eventually lost interest in the project, however, despite extensive pre-production work, including location scouting in India and a meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru. Lean then returned his attention to T. E. Lawrence. Columbia Pictures had an interest in a Lawrence project dating back to the early ’50s, and the project got underway when Spiegel convinced a reluctant A. W. Lawrence to sell the rights to The Seven Pillars of Wisdom for £22,500.
Michael Wilson wrote the original draft of the screenplay. Lean was dissatisfied with Wilson’s work, primarily because his treatment focused on the historical and political aspects of the Arab Revolt. Lean hired Robert Bolt to re-write the script to make it a character study of Lawrence. Many of the characters and scenes are Wilson’s invention, but virtually all of the dialogue in the finished film was written by Bolt.
Lean reportedly watched John Ford‘s film The Searchers (1956) to help him develop ideas as to how to shoot the film. Several scenes directly recall Ford’s film, most notably Ali’s entrance at the well and the composition of many of the desert scenes and the dramatic exit from Wadi Rum. Lean biographer Kevin Brownlow notes a physical similarity between Wadi Rum and Ford’s Monument Valley.
The desert scenes were shot in Jordan and Morocco, as well as Almería and Doñana in Spain. It was originally to be filmed entirely in Jordan; the government of King Hussein was extremely helpful in providing logistical assistance, location scouting, transportation, and extras. O’Toole did not share the love of the desert of the character he played, stating in an interview, “I loathe it.” Hussein himself visited the set several times during production and maintained cordial relationships with cast and crew. During the production of the film, Hussein met and married Toni Gardner, who was working as a switchboard operator in Aqaba. The only tension occurred when Jordanian officials learned that English actor Henry Oscar did not speak Arabic but would be filmed reciting the Qur’an. Permission was granted only on condition that an imam be present to ensure that there were no misquotations.
In Jordan, Lean planned to film in the real Aqaba and the archaeological site at Petra, which Lawrence had been fond of as a place of study. However, the production had to be moved to Spain, much to Lean’s regret, due to cost and outbreaks of illness among the cast and crew before these scenes could be shot. The attack on Aqaba was reconstructed in a dried river bed in southern Spain (at ); it consisted of more than 300 buildings and was meticulously based on the town’s appearance in 1917. The execution of Gasim, the train attacks, and Deraa exteriors were filmed in the Almería region, with some of the filming being delayed because of a flash flood. The Sierra Nevada mountains filled in for Azrak, Lawrence’s winter quarters. The city of Seville was used to represent Cairo, Jerusalem, and Damascus, with the appearance of Casa de Pilatos, the Alcázar of Seville, and the Plaza de España. All of the interiors were shot in Spain, including Lawrence’s first meeting with Faisal and the scene in Auda’s tent.
The Tafas massacre was filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco, with Moroccan army troops substituting for the Turkish army; however, Lean could not film as much as he wanted because the soldiers were uncooperative and impatient. One of the second-unit directors for the Morocco scenes was André de Toth, who suggested a shot wherein bags of blood would be machine-gunned, spraying the screen with blood. Second-unit cinematographer Nicolas Roegapproached Lean with this idea, but Lean found it disgusting. De Toth subsequently left the project.
The film’s production was frequently delayed because shooting commenced without a finished script. After Wilson quit early in the production, playwright Beverley Cross worked on the script in the interim before Bolt took over, although none of Cross’s material made it to the final film. A further mishap occurred when Bolt was arrested for taking part in an anti-nuclear weapons demonstration, and Spiegel had to persuade him to sign a recognizance of good behaviour for him to be released from jail and continue working on the script.
Camels caused several problems on set. O’Toole was not used to riding camels and found the saddle to be uncomfortable. While in Amman during a break in filming, he bought a piece of foam rubber at a market and added it to his saddle. Many of the extras copied the idea and sheets of the foam can be seen on many of the horse and camel saddles. The Bedouin nicknamed O’Toole “‘Ab al-‘Isfanjah” (أب الإسفنجة), meaning “Father of the Sponge”. The idea spread and, to this day, many Bedouins add foam rubber to their saddles.
Later, during the filming of the Aqaba scene, O’Toole was nearly killed when he fell from his camel, but it fortunately stood over him, preventing the horses of the extras from trampling him. Coincidentally, a very similar mishap befell the real Lawrence at the Battle of Abu El Lissal in 1917. In another mishap, O’Toole seriously injured his left hand during filming by punching through the window of a caravan while drunk. A brace or bandage can be seen on his left thumb during the first train attack scene, presumably due to this incident.
Along with many other Arab countries, Jordan banned the film for what was felt to be a disrespectful portrayal of Arab culture. Egypt, Omar Sharif’s home country, was the only Arab nation to give the film a wide release, where it became a success through the endorsement of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who appreciated the film’s depiction of Arab nationalism.
To shoot Lawrence, Super Panavision technology was used meaning spherical lenses were used instead of anamorphic ones, and the image was exposed on a 65mm negative, then printed onto a 70mm positive to leave room for the soundtracks. As the montage-like rapid cutting was more disturbing on the wide screen, filmmakers had to apply longer and more fluid takes. Shooting such a wide ratio produced some unwanted effects during projection, such as a peculiar ‘flutter’ effect, a blurring of certain parts of the image. To avoid the problem, the director often had to modify blocking, giving the actor a more diagonal movement, where the flutter was less likely to occur. When asked whether he could handle CinemaScope, David Lean said, “If one had an eye for composition, there would be no problem.”
The film score was composed by Maurice Jarre, little known at the time and selected only after both William Walton and Malcolm Arnold had proved unavailable. Jarre was given just six weeks to compose two hours of orchestral music for Lawrence. The score was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Sir Adrian Boult is listed as the conductor of the score in the film’s credits, but he could not conduct most of the score, due in part to his failure to adapt to the intricate timings of each cue, and Jarre replaced him as the conductor. The score went on to garner Jarre his first Academy Award for Music Score—Substantially Original and is now considered one of the greatest scores of all time, ranking number three on the American Film Institute’s top twenty-five film scores.
Producer Sam Spiegel wanted to create a score with two themes to show the ‘Eastern’ and British side for the film. It was intended for Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian to create one half and British composer Benjamin Britten to write the other.
The original soundtrack recording was originally released on Colpix Records, the records division of Columbia Pictures, in 1962. A remastered edition appeared on Castle Music, a division of the Sanctuary Records Group, on 28 August 2006.
Kenneth Alford‘s march The Voice of the Guns (1917) is prominently featured on the soundtrack. One of Alford’s other pieces, the Colonel Bogey March, was the musical theme for Lean’s previous film The Bridge on the River Kwai.
A complete recording of the score was not heard until 2010 when Tadlow Music produced a CD of the music, with Nic Raine conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic from scores reconstructed by Leigh Phillips.
The film premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square in London on 10 December 1962 (Royal Premiere) and was released in the United States on 16 December 1962.
The original release ran for about 222 minutes (plus overture, intermission, and exit music). A post-premiere memo (13 December 1962) noted that the film was 24,987.5 ft (70 mm) and 19,990 ft (35 mm). With 90 ft of 35 mm film projected every minute, this corresponds to exactly 222.11 minutes. Richard May, VP Film Preservation at Warner Bros., sent an email to Robert Morris, co-author of a book on Lawrence of Arabia, in which he noted that Gone With the Wind was never edited after its premiere and is 19,884 ft of 35 mm film (without leaders, overture, intermission, entr’acte, or walkout music), corresponding to 220.93 min. Thus, Lawrence of Arabia is slightly more than 1 minute longer than Gone With the Wind and is, therefore, the longest movie ever to win a Best Picture Oscar.
In January 1963, Lawrence was released in a version edited by 20 minutes; when it was re-released in 1971, an even shorter cut of 187 minutes was presented. The first round of cuts was made at the direction and even insistence of David Lean, to assuage criticisms of the film’s length and increase the number of showings per day; however, during the 1989 restoration, he passed blame for the cuts onto deceased producer Sam Spiegel. In addition, a 1966 print was used for initial television and video releases which accidentally altered a few scenes by reversing the image.
A theatrical rerelease in 2002 celebrated the film’s fortieth anniversary.
Restored director’s cut
A restored version was undertaken by Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten under the supervision of director David Lean. It was released in 1989 with a 216-minute length (plus overture, intermission, and exit music).
Most of the cut scenes were dialogue sequences, particularly those involving General Allenby and his staff. Two whole scenes were completely excised—Brighton’s briefing of Allenby in Jerusalem before the Deraa scene and the British staff meeting in the field tent—and the Allenby-briefing scene has still not been entirely restored. Much of the missing dialogue involves Lawrence’s writing of poetry and verse, alluded to by Allenby in particular, saying “the last poetry general we had was Wellington“. The opening of Act II existed in only fragmented form, where Faisal is interviewed by Bentley, as well as the later scene in Jerusalem where Allenby convinces Lawrence not to resign. Both scenes were restored to the 1989 re-release. Some of the more graphic shots of the Tafas massacre scene were also restored, such as the lengthy panning shot of the corpses in Tafas, and Lawrence shooting a surrendering Turkish soldier. Most of the still-missing footage is of minimal import, supplementing existing scenes. One scene is an extended version of the Deraa torture sequence, which makes Lawrence’s punishment more overt in that scene. Other scripted scenes exist, including a conversation between Auda and Lawrence immediately after the fall of Aqaba, a brief scene of Turkish officers noting the extent of Lawrence’s campaign, and the battle of Petra (later reworked into the first train attack), but these scenes were probably not filmed. The actors still living at the time of the re-release dubbed their own dialogue, though Jack Hawkins‘s dialogue had to be dubbed by Charles Gray, who had already provided Hawkins’ voice for several films after Hawkins developed throat cancer in the late 1960s. A full list of cuts can be found at the Internet Movie Database. Reasons for the cuts of various scenes can be found in Lean’s notes to Sam Spiegel, Robert Bolt, and Anne V. Coates. The film runs 227 minutes in the most recent director’s cut available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.
Lawrence of Arabia has been released in five different DVD editions, including an initial release as a two-disc set (2001), followed by a shorter single disc edition (2002), a high resolution version of the director’s cut with restored scenes (2003) issued as part of the Superbit series, as part of the Columbia Best Pictures collection (2008), and in a fully restored special edition of the director’s cut (2008).
New restoration, Blu-ray and theatrical re-release
An 8K scan/4K intermediate digital restoration was made for Blu-ray and theatrical re-release during 2012 by Sony Pictures to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary. The Blu-ray edition of the film was released in the United Kingdom on 10 September 2012 and in the United States on 13 November 2012. The film received a one-day theatrical release on 4 October 2012, a two-day release in Canada on 11 and 15 November 2012, and was also re-released in the United Kingdom on 23 November 2012.
According to Grover Crisp, executive VP of restoration at Sony Pictures, the new 8K scan has such high resolution that when examined, showed a series of fine concentric lines in a pattern “reminiscent of a fingerprint” near the top of the frame. This was caused by the film emulsion melting and cracking in the desert heat during production. Sony had to hire a third party to minimise or eliminate the rippling artefacts in the new restored version. The digital restoration was done by Sony Colorworks DI, Prasad Studios and MTI Film.
A 4K digitally-restored version of the film was screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, at the 2012 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, at the V Janela Internacional de Cinema in Recife, Brazil, and at the 2013 Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose California.
Upon its release, Lawrence of Arabia was a huge critical and financial success and it remains popular among viewers and critics alike. The film’s visuals, score, screenplay and performance by Peter O’Toole have all been common points of acclaim; the film as a whole is widely considered a masterpiece of world cinema and one of the greatest films ever made. Additionally, its visual style has influenced many directors, including George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Brian De Palma, Oliver Stone, and Steven Spielberg, who called the film a “miracle”.
The American Film Institute ranked Lawrence of Arabia 5th in its original and 7th in its updated 100 Years…100 Movies lists and first in its list of the greatest American films of the “epic” genre. In 1991, the film was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1999 the film placed third in the British Film Institute’s poll of the best British films of the 20th century and in 2001 the magazine Total Film called it “as shockingly beautiful and hugely intelligent as any film ever made” and “faultless”. It was ranked in the top ten films of all time in the 2002 Sight & Sound directors’ poll. Additionally, O’Toole’s performance is often considered one of the greatest in all of cinema, topping lists from both Entertainment Weekly and Premiere. T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by O’Toole, was selected as the tenth-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute.
In addition, Lawrence of Arabia is currently one of the highest-rated films on Metacritic; it holds a perfect 100/100 rating, indicating “universal acclaim”, based on seven reviews. It has a 98% “Certified fresh” approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 80 reviews with an average rating of 9.1/10 from critics with the consensus stating, “The epic of all epics, Lawrence of Arabia cements director David Lean’s status in the filmmaking pantheon with nearly four hours of grand scope, brilliant performances, and beautiful cinematography.”
Awards and honours
Film director Steven Spielberg considers this his favourite film of all time and the one that inspired him to become a filmmaker.
In 2012, the Motion Picture Editors Guild listed the film as the seventh best-edited film of all time based on a survey of its membership.
In 1990, the made-for-television film A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia was aired. It depicts events in the lives of Lawrence and Faisal subsequent to Lawrence of Arabia and featured Ralph Fiennes as Lawrence and Alexander Siddig as Prince Faisal.
- Cinema of Jordan
- Clash of Loyalties
- Films considered the greatest ever
- BFI Top 100 British films
- White savior narrative in film
- Whitewashing in film
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my bitterest disappointment
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T. E. Lawrence
T. E. Lawrence
Lawrence in 1918
|Birth name||Thomas Edward Lawrence|
|Other name(s)||T. E. Shaw, John Hume Ross|
|Nickname(s)||Lawrence of Arabia|
|Born||16 August 1888
Tremadog, Carnarvonshire, Wales
|Died||19 May 1935 (aged 46)
Bovington Camp, Dorset, England
|Buried||St Nicholas, Moreton, Dorset|
Kingdom of Hejaz
Royal Air Force
|Years of service||1914–1918
|Rank||Colonel (British Army)
|Battles/wars||First World War|
|Awards||Companion of the Order of the Bath
Distinguished Service Order
Knight of the Legion of Honour(France)
Croix de guerre (France)
Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO (16 August 1888 – 19 May 1935) was a British archaeologist, military officer, diplomat, and writer. He was renowned for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame as Lawrence of Arabia—a title used for the 1962 film based on his wartime activities.
He was born out of wedlock in Tremadog, Wales, in August 1888 to Thomas Chapman (who became, in 1914, Sir Thomas Chapman, 7th Baronet), an Anglo-Irish nobleman from County Westmeath, and Sarah Junner, a Scottish governess, whom Chapman had left his wife and first family in Ireland to cohabit with; they called themselves Mr and Mrs Lawrence. The name “Lawrence” was probably adopted from that of Sarah’s likely father, member of a family of that name where her mother was employed as a servant when she became pregnant. In 1896, the Lawrences moved to Oxford, where their son attended the High School and then from 1907 to 1910 studied History at Jesus College. Between 1910 and 1914 he worked as an archaeologist for the British Museum, chiefly at Carchemish, in Ottoman Syria.
Soon after the outbreak of war he volunteered for the British Army and was stationed in Egypt. In 1916, he was sent to Arabia on an intelligence mission and quickly became involved with the Arab Revolt, providing, along with other British officers, liaison to the Arab forces. Working closely with Emir Faisal, a leader of the revolt, he participated in and sometimes led military activities against the Ottoman armed forces, culminating in the capture of Damascus in October 1918.
After the war, Lawrence joined the Foreign Office, working with both the British government and with Faisal. In 1922, he retreated from public life and spent the years until 1935 serving as an enlisted man, mostly in the Royal Air Force, with a brief stint in the Army. During this time, he wrote and published his best-known work, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an autobiographical account of his participation in the Arab Revolt. He also translated books into English and wrote The Mint, which was published posthumously and detailed his time in the Royal Air Force working as an ordinary aircraftman. He corresponded extensively and was friendly with well-known artists, writers, and politicians. For the Royal Air Force, he participated in the development of rescue motorboats.
Lawrence’s public image resulted in part from the sensationalised reporting of the Arab revolt by American journalist Lowell Thomas, as well as from Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In 1935, Lawrence was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident in Dorset.
Thomas Edward Lawrence was born on 16 August 1888 in Tremadog, Carnarvonshire (now Gwynedd), Wales in a house named Gorphwysfa, now known as Snowdon Lodge. His Anglo-Irish father Thomas Chapman had left his wife Edith after he fell in love and had a son with Sarah Junner, a young Scotswoman who had been engaged as governess to his daughters. Sarah was the daughter of Elizabeth Junner and John Lawrence, who worked as a ship’s carpenter and was a son of the household in which Elizabeth had been a servant. She was dismissed four months before Sarah was born. (Elizabeth identified Sarah’s father as “John Junner – Shipwright journeyman”.)
Sarah and Thomas did not marry, but lived together under the name Lawrence. In 1914, Sir Thomas inherited the Chapman baronetcy based at Killua Castle, the ancestral family home in County Westmeath, Ireland; but he and Sarah continued to live in England. They had five sons; Thomas Edward was the second eldest. From Wales the family moved to Kirkcudbright, Galloway in southwestern Scotland, then Dinard in Brittany, then to Jersey. In 1894–96, the family lived at Langley Lodge (now demolished), set in private woods between the eastern borders of the New Forest and Southampton Water in Hampshire. The residence was isolated, and young “Ned” Lawrence had many opportunities for outdoor activities and waterfront visits. Victorian-Edwardian Britain was a very conservative society where the majority of people were God-fearing Christians with the corollary that premarital and extramarital sex were considered deeply shameful and those born illegitimate were born disgraced. Despite having in many ways a happy childhood and youth, Lawrence was always something of an outsider, a bastard who could never hope to achieve the same level of social acceptance and success that those born legitimate could expect, and who was virtually unmarriageable as no girl from a respectable family would ever marry a bastard.
In the summer of 1896, the Lawrences moved to 2, Polstead Road in Oxford, where they lived until 1921. Lawrence attended the City of Oxford High School for Boys from 1896 until 1907, where one of the four houses was later named “Lawrence” in his honour; the school closed in 1966. Lawrence and one of his brothers became commissioned officers in the Church Lads’ Brigade at St Aldate’s Church.
Lawrence claimed that he ran away from home circa 1905 and served for a few weeks as a boy soldier with the Royal Garrison Artillery at St Mawes Castle in Cornwall, from which he was bought out. No evidence of this appears in army records.
Antiquities and archaeology
At the age of 15, Lawrence and his schoolfriend Cyril Beeson cycled around Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, visited almost every village’s parish church, studied their monuments and antiquities, and made rubbings of their monumental brasses. Lawrence and Beeson monitored building sites in Oxford and presented their finds to the Ashmolean Museum. The Ashmolean’s Annual Report for 1906 said that the two teenage boys “by incessant watchfulness secured everything of antiquarian value which has been found.” In the summers of 1906 and 1907, Lawrence and Beeson toured France by bicycle, collecting photographs, drawings, and measurements of medieval castles. In August 1907 Lawrence wrote home: “The Chaignons & the Lamballe people, complimented me on my wonderful French: I have been asked twice since I arrived what part of France I came from”.
From 1907 to 1910, Lawrence read History at Jesus College, Oxford. In the summer of 1909, he set out alone on a three-month walking tour of crusader castles in Ottoman Syria, during which he travelled 1,000 mi (1,600 km) on foot. Lawrence graduated with First Class Honours after submitting a thesis titled The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture—to the End of the 12th Century, based on his field research with Beeson in France, notably in Châlus, and his solo research in the Middle East. Lawrence was fascinated by the Middle Ages with his brother Arnold writing in 1937 that for him “medieval researches” were a “dream way of escape from bourgeois England”.
In 1910 Lawrence was offered the opportunity to become a practising archaeologist in the Middle East, at Carchemish, in the expedition that D. G. Hogarth was setting up on behalf of the British Museum. Hogarth arranged a “Senior Demyship”, a form of scholarship, for Lawrence at Magdalen College, Oxford, to fund Lawrence’s work at £100 a year.
In December 1910, he sailed for Beirut and on his arrival went to Jbail (Byblos), where he studied Arabic. He then went to work on the excavations at Carchemish, near Jerablus in northern Syria, where he worked under Hogarth, R. Campbell Thompson of the British Museum, and Leonard Woolley, until 1914. He later stated that everything which he had accomplished he owed to Hogarth. While excavating at Carchemish, Lawrence met Gertrude Bell. In 1912 Lawrence worked briefly with Flinders Petrie at Kafr Ammar in Egypt.
In January 1914, Woolley and Lawrence were co-opted by the British military as an archaeological smokescreen for a British military survey of the Negev Desert. They were funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund to search for an area referred to in the Bible as the Wilderness of Zin. Along the way, they made an archaeological survey of the Negev Desert. The Negev was strategically important as, in the event of war, any Ottoman army attacking Egypt would have to cross it. Woolley and Lawrence subsequently published a report of the expedition’s archaeological findings, but a more important result was updated mapping of the area, with special attention to features of military relevance such as water sources. Lawrence also visited Aqaba and Petra.
Following the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Lawrence did not immediately enlist in the British Army. On the advice of S. F. Newcombe, he held back until October, when he was commissioned on the General List. Before the end of the year he had been summoned by renowned archaeologist and historian Lt. Cmdr. David Hogarth to the nascent Arab Bureau intelligence unit in Cairo. Lawrence arrived in Cairo on 15 December 1914. The Bureau’s chief was General Gilbert Clayton who reported to Egyptian High Commissioner Henry McMahon.
The situation during 1915 was complex. Within the Arabic-speaking Ottoman territories, there was a growing Arab-nationalist movement, including many Arabs serving in the Ottoman armed forces. They were in contact with Sharif Hussein, Emir of Mecca, who was negotiating with the British, offering to lead an Arab uprising against the Ottomans. In exchange, he wanted a British guarantee of an independent Arab state including the Hejaz, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Such an uprising would have been very helpful to Britain in its war against the Ottomans, in particular greatly lessening the threat against the Suez Canal.
However, there was resistance from French diplomats, who insisted that Syria’s future was as a French colony not an independent Arab state. There were also strong objections from the Government of India which, although nominally part of the British government, acted independently. Its vision was of Mesopotamia under British control serving as a granary for India; furthermore, it wanted to hold on to its Arabian outpost in Aden.
At the Arab Bureau, Lawrence supervised the preparation of maps, produced a daily bulletin for the British generals operating in the theatre, and interviewed prisoners. He was an advocate of a British landing at Alexandretta, which never came to pass. He was also a consistent advocate of an independent Arab Syria.
In October 1915, the situation came to a crisis, as Sharif Hussein demanded an immediate commitment from Britain, with the threat that if this were denied, he would throw his weight behind the Ottomans. This would create a credible Pan-Islamic message that could have been very dangerous for Britain, which was under stress, at that moment in severe difficulties in the Gallipoli Campaign. The British replied with a letter from High Commissioner McMahon that was generally agreeable, while reserving commitments concerning the Mediterranean coastline and Holy Land.
In the spring of 1916, Lawrence was dispatched to Mesopotamia to assist in relieving the Siege of Kut by some combination of starting an Arab uprising and bribing Ottoman officials. This mission produced no useful result. Meanwhile, unbeknown to the British officials in Cairo, the Sykes–Picot Agreement was being negotiated in London, which awarded a large proportion of Syria to France. Further, it implied that if the Arabs were to have any sort of state in Syria, they would have to conquer its four great cities: Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo. It is unclear at what point Lawrence became aware of the treaty’s contents.
The Arab Revolt began in June 1916, and after a few initial successes bogged down, with a real risk the Ottoman forces would advance along the coast of the Red Sea and recapture Mecca. On 16 October 1916, Lawrence was sent to the Hejaz on an intelligence-gathering mission led by Ronald Storrs. He visited and interviewed three of Sharif Hussein’s sons: Ali, Abdullah, and Faisal. He concluded that Faisal was the best candidate to lead the Revolt.
In November, it was decided to assign S. F. Newcombe to lead a permanent British liaison to Faisal’s staff. As Newcombe had not yet arrived in the area and the matter was of some urgency, Lawrence was sent in his place. In late December 1916, Faisal and Lawrence worked out a plan for repositioning the Arab forces to prevent the Ottoman forces around Medina from threatening Arab positions and putting the railway from Syria under threat. When Newcombe arrived and Lawrence was preparing to leave Arabia, Faisal intervened urgently, asking that Lawrence’s assignment become permanent. Lawrence remained attached to Faisal’s forces until the fall of Damascus in 1918.
Lawrence’s most important contributions to the Arab Revolt were in the area of strategy and liaison with British armed forces but he also participated personally in several military engagements:
- 3 January 1917: Attack on an Ottoman outpost in the Hejaz.
- 26 March 1917: Attack on the railway at Aba el Naam.
- 11 June 1917: Attack on a bridge at Ras Baalbek.
- 2 July 1917: Defeat of the Ottoman forces at Aba el Lissan, an outpost of Aqaba.
- 18 September 1917: Attack on the railway near Mudawara.
- 27 September 1917: Attack on the railway, destroyed an engine.
- 7 November 1917: Following a failed attack on the Yarmuk bridges, blew up a train on the railway between Deraa and Amman, suffering several wounds in the explosion and ensuing combat.
- 23 January 1918: The battle of Tafileh, a region southeast of the Dead Sea, with Arab regulars under the command of Jafar Pasha al-Askari. The battle was a defensive engagement that turned into an offensive rout and was described in the official history of the war as a “brilliant feat of arms”. Lawrence was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership at Tafileh and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. The Arabs took the lives of 400 Turks and captured more than 200 prisoners.
- March 1918: Attack on the railway near Aqaba.
- 19 April 1918: Attack using British armoured cars on Tell Shahm.
- 16 September 1918: Destruction of railway bridge between Amman and Deraa.
- 26 September 1918: Attack on retreating Ottomans and Germans near the village of Tafas; the Ottoman forces massacred the villagers and then Arab forces in return massacred their prisoners with Lawrence’s encouragement.
In June 1917, on the way to Aqaba, Lawrence made a 300-mile personal journey northward, visiting Ras Baalbek, the outskirts of Damascus, and Azraq. He met Arab nationalists, counselling them to avoid revolt until the arrival of Faisal’s forces, and attacked a bridge to create the impression of guerrilla activity. His findings were regarded by the British as extremely valuable and there was serious consideration of awarding him a Victoria Cross; in the end, he was invested as a Companion of the Order of the Bath and promoted to Major.
Lawrence travelled regularly between British HQ and Faisal, co-ordinating military action. But by early 1918, Faisal’s chief British liaison was Colonel Pierce Charles Joyce, and Lawrence’s time was chiefly devoted to raiding and intelligence-gathering.
By the summer of 1918, the Turks were offering a substantial reward for Lawrence’s capture, initially £5,000 and eventually £20,000 (approx $2.1 million in 2017 dollars or £1.5 million). One officer wrote in his notes: “Though a price of £15,000 has been put on his head by the Turks, no Arab has, as yet, attempted to betray him. The Sharif of Mecca has given him the status of one of his sons, and he is just the finely tempered steel that supports the whole structure of our influence in Arabia. He is a very inspiring gentleman adventurer.”
The chief elements of the Arab strategy, developed chiefly by Faisal and Lawrence, were firstly to avoid capturing Medina, and secondly to extend northwards through Maan and Dera’a to Damascus and beyond. The Emir Faisal wanted to lead regular attacks against the Ottomans, which Lawrence persuaded him to drop. Lawrence wrote about the Bedouin as a fighting force:
“The value of the tribes is defensive only and their real sphere is guerilla warfare. They are intelligent, and very lively, almost reckless, but too individualistic to endure commands, or fight in line, or to help each other. It would, I think, be possible to make an organized force out of them…The Hejaz war is one of dervishes against regular forces-and we are on the side of the dervishes. Our text-books do not apply to its conditions at all”.
Medina was an attractive target for the revolt as Islam’s second holiest site, and because its Ottoman garrison was weakened by disease and isolation. It became clear that it was advantageous to leave it there rather than try to capture it, while continually attacking, but not permanently breaking, the Hejaz railway south from Damascus. This prevented the Ottomans from making effective use of their troops at Medina, and forced them to dedicate many resources to defending and repairing the railway line.
The movement north to Damascus and eventually Aleppo is interesting in the context of the Sykes-Picot agreement. While it is not known when Lawrence learned the details of Sykes-Picot, nor if or when he briefed Faisal on what he knew, there is good reason to think that both these things happened, and earlier rather than later. In particular, the Arab strategy of northward extension makes perfect sense given the Sykes-Picot language that spoke of an independent Arab entity in Syria, which would only be granted if the Arabs liberated the territory themselves. The French, and some of their British Liaison officers, were specifically uncomfortable about the northward movement, as it would weaken French colonial claims.
Capture of Aqaba
In 1917, Lawrence successfully proposed a joint action with the Arab irregulars and forces including Auda Abu Tayi (until then in the employ of the Ottomans) against the strategically located but lightly defended town of Aqaba on the Red Sea. While Aqaba could have been captured by an attack from the sea, the narrow defiles leading inland through the mountains were strongly defended and would have been very difficult to assault. The expedition was led by the well-respected Sharif Nasir of Medina.
Lawrence carefully avoided informing his British superiors about the details of the planned inland attack, due to concern that it would be blocked as contrary to French interests. The expedition departed from Wejh on 9 May. Aqaba fell to the Arab forces on 6 July, after a surprise overland attack, taking the Turkish defences from behind.
I gave him a free hand. His cooperation was marked by the utmost loyalty, and I never had anything but praise for his work, which, indeed, was invaluable throughout the campaign. He was the mainspring of the Arab movement and knew their language, their manners and their mentality.
After the fall of Aqaba, Lawrence held a powerful position as an adviser to Faisal and a person who had Allenby’s confidence.
In both Seven Pillars and a 1919 letter to a military colleague, Lawrence describes an episode on 20 November 1917 while reconnoitering Dera’a in disguise when he was captured by the Ottoman military, heavily beaten, and sexually abused by the local bey and his guardsmen. The precise nature of the sexual contact is not specified. James Barr, author of Setting the Desert on Fire: T E Lawrence and Britain’s Secret War in Arabia 1916-1918, has claimed that the episode was invented and that Lawrence was never in or near Dera’a. Also, scholars have stated (with some evidence) that he exaggerated the severity of the injuries he claimed to have suffered. There is no independent testimony, but the multiple consistent reports and the absence of evidence for outright invention in Lawrence’s works make the account believable to his biographers. At least three of Lawrence’s biographers, namely Malcolm Brown, John E. Mack, and Jeremy Wilson, have argued that this episode had strong psychological effects on Lawrence, which may explain some of his unconventional behaviour in later life. Lawrence ended his account of the episode in Seven Pillars of Wisdom with the statement: “In Deraa that night the citadel of my integrity had been irrevocably lost.”
Fall of Damascus
Lawrence was involved in the build-up to the capture of Damascus in the final weeks of the war. He was not present at the city’s formal surrender, much to his disappointment and contrary to instructions that he had issued, having arrived several hours after the city had fallen. Lawrence entered Damascus around 9 am on 1 October 1918 but was the third arrival of the day; the first was the 10th Australian Light Horse Brigade, led by Major A.C.N. ‘Harry’ Olden, who formally accepted the surrender of the city from acting Governor Emir Said. Lawrence was instrumental in establishing a provisional Arab government under Faisal in newly liberated Damascus – which he had envisioned as the capital of an Arab state. Faisal’s rule as king, however, came to an abrupt end in 1920, after the battle of Maysaloun, when the French Forces of General Gouraud entered Damascus under the command of General Mariano Goybet, destroying Lawrence’s dream of an independent Arabia.
During the closing years of the war, Lawrence sought to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests – with mixed success. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britain contradicted the promises of independence that he had made to the Arabs and frustrated his work.
In 1918, he cooperated with war correspondent Lowell Thomas for a short period. During this time, Thomas and his cameraman Harry Chase shot a great deal of film and many photographs, which Thomas used in a highly lucrative slide-show presentation that toured the world after the war.
[Lowell Thomas] went to Jerusalem where he met Lawrence, whose enigmatic figure in Arab uniform fired his imagination. With Allenby’s permission he linked up with Lawrence for a brief couple of weeks … Returning to America, Thomas, early in 1919, started his lectures, supported by moving pictures of veiled women, Arabs in their picturesque robes, camels and dashing Bedouin cavalry, which took the nation by storm, after running at Madison Square Garden in New York. On being asked to come to England, he made the condition he would do so if asked by the King and given Drury Lane or Covent Garden … He opened at Covent Garden on 14 August 1919 … And so followed a series of some hundreds of lectures – film shows, attended by the highest in the land …
Lawrence returned to the United Kingdom a full colonel. Immediately after the war, he worked for the Foreign Office, attending the Paris Peace Conference between January and May as a member of Faisal’s delegation. On 17 May 1919, the Handley Page Type Ocarrying Lawrence on a flight to Egypt crashed at the airport of Roma-Centocelle. The pilot and co-pilot were killed; Lawrence survived with a broken shoulder blade and two broken ribs. During his brief hospitalisation, he was visited by the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel III.
In August 1919, Lowell Thomas launched a colourful photo show in London entitled With Allenby in Palestine, which included a lecture, dancing, and music. With Allenby in Palestine engaged in what was later deemed “Orientalism“, the depiction of the Orient—as the Westerners called the Middle East up until World War II—as strange, exotic, mysterious, bizarre, sensuous, and violent. Initially, Lawrence played only a supporting role in the show as the main focus was on Allenby’s campaigns, but when Thomas realised that it was the photos of Lawrence dressed as a Bedouin that had captured the public’s imagination, he had Lawrence photographed again in London in Arab dress. With the new photos, Thomas re-launched his show under the new title With Allenby in Palestine and Lawrence in Arabia in early 1920, which proved to be extremely popular. The new title elevating Lawrence from a supporting role to a co-star of the Near Eastern campaign reflected the changed emphasis. Thomas’ shows made the previously obscure Lawrence into a household name. Lawrence served for much of 1921 as an adviser to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office. Lawrence hated bureaucratic work, writing on 21 May 1921 to Robert Graves: “I wish I hadn’t gone out there: the Arabs are like a page I have turned over; and sequels are rotten things. I’m locked up here: office every day and much of it”.
Lawrence had a sinister reputation in France, both during his lifetime and even today, being seen as an implacable “enemy of France”; the man who was supposedly constantly stirring up the Syrians to revolt against French rule throughout the 1920s. The French historian Maurice Larès wrote that the real reason for France’s problems in Syria was that the Syrians did not want to be ruled by France, and the French needed a “scapegoat” to blame for their difficulties in ruling the country. Larès wrote that far from being a Francophobe, as he is usually depicted in France, Lawrence was really a Francophile. Larès wrote: “But we should note that a man rarely devotes much of his time and effort to the study of a language and of the literature of a people he hates, unless this is in order to work for its destruction (Eichmann’s behavior may be an instance of this), which was clearly not Lawrence’s case. Had Lawrence really disliked the French, would he, even for financial reasons, have translated French novels into English? The quality of his translation of Le Gigantesque (The Forest Giant) reveals not only his conscientiousness as an artist but also a knowledge of French that can scarcely have derived from unfriendly feelings”. Larès concluded that the popular thesis in France that Lawrence had “virulent anti-French prejudices” is not supported by the facts.
In August 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman, under the name John Hume Ross. At the RAF recruiting centre in Covent Garden, London, he was interviewed by recruiting officer Flying Officer W. E. Johns, later known as the author of the Biggles series of novels. Johns rejected Lawrence’s application as he correctly believed that “Ross” was a false name. Lawrence admitted that this was so and that the documents he had provided were false. He left, but returned some time later with an RAF messenger, who carried a written order that Johns must accept Lawrence.
However, Lawrence was forced out of the RAF in February 1923 after his identity was exposed. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps later that year. He was unhappy there and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally readmitted him in August 1925. A fresh burst of publicity after the publication of Revolt in the Desert resulted in his assignment, to bases at Karachi and then Miramshah, in then British India (now Pakistan) in late 1926, where he remained until the end of 1928. At that time, he was forced to return to Britain after rumours began to circulate that he was involved in espionage activities.
He purchased several small plots of land in Chingford, built a hut and swimming pool there, and visited frequently. The hut was removed in 1930 when the Chingford Urban District Council acquired the land. The hut was given to the City of London Corporation, which re-erected it in the grounds of The Warren, Loughton. Lawrence’s tenure of the Chingford land has now been commemorated by a plaque fixed on the sighting obelisk on Pole Hill.
Lawrence continued serving in the RAF based at RAF Mount Batten near Plymouth, RAF Calshot, near Southampton, and Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, specialising in high-speed boats and professing happiness, and it was with considerable regret that he left the service at the end of his enlistment in March 1935.
In the inter-war period, the RAF’s Marine Craft Section began to have built for it air-sea rescue launches capable of higher speeds and greater capacity. The arrival of high-speed craft into the MCS was driven in part by Lawrence. He had previously witnessed the drowning of the crew of a seaplane when the seaplane tender sent to their rescue was too slow in arriving. Working with Hubert Scott-Paine, the founder of the British Power Boat Company (BPBC), the 37.5 ft (11.4 m) long ST 200 Seaplane Tender Mk1 was introduced into service. These boats had a range of 140 miles when cruising at 24 knots, and could achieve a top speed of 29 knots.
Lawrence was a keen motorcyclist and owned eight Brough Superior motorcycles at different times. His last SS100 (Registration GW 2275) is privately owned but has been on loan to the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu and the Imperial War Museum in London.
Among the books that Lawrence is known to have carried with him on his military campaigns is Thomas Malory‘s Le Morte d’Arthur. Accounts of the 1934 discovery of the Winchester Manuscript of the Morte include a report that, after reading about the discovery in The Times, Lawrence followed Malory scholar Eugene Vinaver from Manchester to Winchester by motorcycle.
At the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control, and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935. The location is marked by a small memorial at the side of the road.
One of the doctors attending him was neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns, who consequently began a long study of the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries. His research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists.
The Moreton estate, which borders Bovington Camp, was owned by Lawrence’s cousins, the Frampton family. Lawrence had rented and later bought Clouds Hill from the Framptons. He had been a frequent visitor to their home, Okers Wood House, and had for years corresponded with Louisa Frampton. Lawrence’s mother arranged with the Framptons to have him buried in their family plot in the separate burial ground of St Nicholas’ Church, Moreton. His coffin was transported on the Frampton estate’s bier. Mourners included Winston and Clementine Churchill, E. M. Forster, Lady Astor and Lawrence’s youngest brother Arnold.
Lawrence was a prolific writer throughout his life. A large portion of his output was epistolary. He often sent several letters a day. Several collections of his letters have been published. He corresponded with many notable figures, including George Bernard Shaw, Edward Elgar, Winston Churchill, Robert Graves, Noël Coward, E. M. Forster, Siegfried Sassoon, John Buchan, Augustus John, and Henry Williamson. He met Joseph Conrad and commented perceptively on his works. The many letters that he sent to Shaw’s wife Charlotte are revealing as to his character.
Lawrence published three major texts in his lifetime. The most significant was his account of the Arab Revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Two were translations: Homer‘s Odyssey and The Forest Giant, the latter an otherwise forgotten work of French fiction. He received a flat fee for the second translation, and negotiated a generous fee plus royalties for the first.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Lawrence’s major work is Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an account of his war experiences. In 1919, he had been elected to a seven-year research fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford, providing him with support while he worked on the book. In addition to being a memoir of his experiences during the war, certain parts also serve as essays on military strategy, Arabian culture and geography, and other topics. Lawrence re-wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom three times, once “blind” after he lost the manuscript while changing trains at Reading railway station.
The list of his alleged “embellishments” in Seven Pillars is long, though many such allegations have been disproved with time, most definitively in Jeremy Wilson‘s authorised biography. However, Lawrence’s own notebooks refute his claim to have crossed the Sinai Peninsula from Aqaba to the Suez Canal in just 49 hours without any sleep. In reality, this famous camel ride lasted for more than 70 hours and was interrupted by two long breaks for sleeping, which Lawrence omitted when he wrote his book.
Lawrence acknowledged having been helped in the editing of the book by George Bernard Shaw. In the preface to Seven Pillars, Lawrence offered his “thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Shaw for countless suggestions of great value and diversity: and for all the present semicolons“.
The first public edition was published in 1926 as a high-priced private subscription edition, printed in London by Herbert John Hodgson and Roy Manning Pike, with illustrations by Eric Kennington, Augustus John, Paul Nash, Blair Hughes-Stanton, and Hughes-Stanton’s wife Gertrude Hermes. Lawrence was afraid that the public would think that he would make a substantial income from the book, and he stated that it was written as a result of his war service. He vowed not to take any money from it, and indeed he did not, as the sale price was one third of the production costs. This, along with his “saintlike” generosity, left Lawrence in substantial debt.
Revolt in the Desert
Revolt in the Desert was an abridged version of Seven Pillars that he began in 1926 and that was published in March 1927 in both limited and trade editions. He undertook a needed but reluctant publicity exercise, which resulted in a best-seller. Again he vowed not to take any fees from the publication, partly to appease the subscribers to Seven Pillars who had paid dearly for their editions. By the fourth reprint in 1927, the debt from Seven Pillarswas paid off. As Lawrence left for military service in India at the end of 1926, he set up the “Seven Pillars Trust” with his friend D. G. Hogarth as a trustee, in which he made over the copyright and any surplus income of Revolt in the Desert. He later told Hogarth that he had “made the Trust final, to save myself the temptation of reviewing it, if Revolt turned out a best seller.”
The resultant trust paid off the debt, and Lawrence then invoked a clause in his publishing contract to halt publication of the abridgment in the United Kingdom. However, he allowed both American editions and translations, which resulted in a substantial flow of income. The trust paid income either into an educational fund for children of RAF officers who lost their lives or were invalided as a result of service, or more substantially into the RAF Benevolent Fund.
Lawrence left unpublished The Mint, a memoir of his experiences as an enlisted man in the Royal Air Force (RAF). For this, he worked from a notebook that he kept while enlisted, writing of the daily lives of enlisted men and his desire to be a part of something larger than himself: the Royal Air Force. The book is stylistically very different from Seven Pillars of Wisdom, using sparse prose as opposed to the complicated syntax found in Seven Pillars. It was published posthumously, edited by his brother, Professor A. W. Lawrence.
After Lawrence’s death, A. W. Lawrence inherited Lawrence’s estate and his copyrights as the sole beneficiary. To pay the inheritance tax, he sold the US copyright of Seven Pillars of Wisdom (subscribers’ text) outright to Doubleday Doran in 1935. Doubleday still controls publication rights of this version of the text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the USA, and will continue to do until the copyright expires at the end of 2022 (publication plus 95 years). In 1936 Prof. Lawrence split the remaining assets of the estate, giving Clouds Hill and many copies of less substantial or historical letters to the nation via the National Trust, and then set up two trusts to control interests in T. E. Lawrence’s residual copyrights. To the original Seven Pillars Trust, Prof. Lawrence assigned the copyright in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, as a result of which it was given its first general publication. To the Letters and Symposium Trust, he assigned the copyright in The Mint and all Lawrence’s letters, which were subsequently edited and published in the book T. E. Lawrence by his Friends (edited by A. W. Lawrence, London, Jonathan Cape, 1937).
A substantial amount of income went directly to the RAF Benevolent Fund or for archaeological, environmental, or academic projects. The two trusts were amalgamated in 1986 and, on the death of Prof. A. W. Lawrence in 1991, the unified trust also acquired all the remaining rights to Lawrence’s works that it had not owned, plus rights to all of Prof. Lawrence’s works. The UK copyrights of Lawrence’s works published in his lifetime and within 20 years of his death had expired by the end of 2005. Works published more than 20 years after his death were protected for 50 years from publication.
- Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an account of Lawrence’s part in the Arab Revolt. (ISBN 0-8488-0562-3)
- Revolt in the Desert, an abridged version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. (ISBN 1-56619-275-7)
- The Mint, an account of Lawrence’s service in the Royal Air Force. (ISBN 0-393-00196-2)
- Crusader Castles, Lawrence’s Oxford thesis. London: Michael Haag 1986 (ISBN 0-902743-53-8). The first edition was published in London in 1936 by the Golden Cockerel Press, in 2 volumes, limited to 1000 editions.
- The Odyssey of Homer, Lawrence’s translation from the Greek, first published in 1932. (ISBN 0-19-506818-1)
- The Forest Giant, by Adrien Le Corbeau, novel, Lawrence’s translation from the French, 1924.
- The Letters of T. E. Lawrence, selected and edited by Malcolm Brown. London, J. M Dent. 1988 (ISBN 0-460-04733-7)
- The Letters of T. E. Lawrence, edited by David Garnett. (ISBN 0-88355-856-4)
- T. E. Lawrence. Letters, Jeremy Wilson. (See prospectus)
- Minorities: Good Poems by Small Poets and Small Poems by Good Poets, edited by Jeremy Wilson, 1971. Lawrence’s commonplace book includes an introduction by Wilson that explains how the poems comprising the book reflected Lawrence’s life and thoughts.
- Guerrilla Warfare, article in the 1929 Encyclopædia Britannica
- The Wilderness of Zin, by C. Leonard Woolley and T. E. Lawrence. London, Harrison and Sons, 1914.
Lawrence’s biographers have discussed his sexuality at considerable length, and this discussion has spilled into the popular press.
There is no reliable evidence for consensual sexual intimacy between Lawrence and any person. His friends have expressed the opinion that he was asexual, and Lawrence himself specifically denied, in multiple private letters, any personal experience of sex. There were suggestions that Lawrence had been intimate with Dahoum, who worked with him at a pre-war archaeological dig in Carchemish, and fellow-serviceman R. A. M. Guy,but his biographers and contemporaries have found them unconvincing.
The dedication to his book Seven Pillars is a poem titled “To S.A.” which opens:
I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.
Lawrence was never specific about the identity of “S.A.” Many theories argue in favour of individual men or women, and the Arab nation as a whole. The most popular theory is that S.A. represents (at least in part) his companion Selim Ahmed, “Dahoum”—who apparently died of typhus before 1918.
Lawrence lived in a period of strong official opposition to homosexuality, but his writing on the subject was tolerant. In a letter to Charlotte Shaw, he wrote, “I’ve seen lots of man-and-man loves: very lovely and fortunate some of them were.” He refers to “the openness and honesty of perfect love” on one occasion in Seven Pillars, when discussing relationships between young male fighters in the war. In Chapter 1 of Seven Pillars, he wrote:
In horror of such sordid commerce [diseased female prostitutes] our youths began indifferently to slake one another’s few needs in their own clean bodies–a cold convenience that, by comparison, seemed sexless and even pure. Later, some began to justify this sterile process, and swore that friends quivering together in the yielding sand with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace, found there hidden in the darkness a sensual co-efficient of the mental passion which was welding our souls and spirits in one flaming effort [to secure Arab independence]. Several, thirsting to punish appetites they could not wholly prevent, took a savage pride in degrading the body, and offered themselves fiercely in any habit which promised physical pain or filth.
There is considerable evidence that Lawrence was a masochist. In his description of the Dera’a beating, Lawrence wrote: “a delicious warmth, probably sexual, was swelling through me,” and also included a detailed description of the guards’ whip in a style typical of masochists’ writing.In later life, Lawrence arranged to pay a military colleague to administer beatings to him, and to be subjected to severe formal tests of fitness and stamina. John Bruce first wrote on this topic, including some other claims that were not credible, but Lawrence’s biographers regard the beatings as established fact. The French novelist André Malraux, who admired Lawrence, wrote that he had a “taste for self-humiliation, now by discipline and now by veneration; a horror of respectability; a disgust for possessions…a thoroughgoing sense of guilt, pursued by his angels or his demons, a sense of evil, and of the nothingness men cling to; a need for the absolute, an instinctive taste for asceticism”.
Psychologist John E. Mack sees a possible connection between T. E.’s masochism and the childhood beatings that he had received from his mother for routine misbehaviours. His brother Arnold thought that the beatings had been given for the purpose of breaking T. E.’s will. Writing in 1997, Angus Calder noted that it is “astonishing” that earlier commentators discussing Lawrence’s apparent masochism and self-loathing failed to consider the impact on Lawrence of having lost his brothers Frank and Will on the Western Front, along with many other school friends.
Awards and commemorations
Lawrence was invested as a Companion of the Order of the Bath and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the French Légion d’honneur—though in October 1918 he declined appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
A bronze bust of Lawrence by Eric Kennington was placed in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on 29 January 1936, alongside the tombs of Britain’s greatest military leaders. A recumbent stone effigy by Kennington was installed in St Martin’s Church, Wareham, Dorset, in 1939.
An English Heritage blue plaque marks Lawrence’s childhood home at 2 Polstead Road, Oxford, and another appears on his London home at 14 Barton Street, Westminster. Lawrence appears on the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. In 2002, Lawrence was named 53rd in the BBC‘s list of the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide vote.
In popular culture
- Alexander Korda bought the film rights to The Seven Pillars in the 1930s. The production was in development, with various actors cast as the lead, such as Leslie Howard, Walter Hudd and John Clements, but ultimately it came to nothing.
- Lawrence was portrayed by Peter O’Toole in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
- Lawrence is portrayed by Robert Pattinson in the 2014 biographical drama about Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert.
- Lawrence inspired behavioural affectations in the synthetic model called David, portrayed by Michael Fassbender in the 2012 film Prometheus, and in the 2017 sequel Alien: Covenant—part of the Alien franchise.
- He was portrayed by Judson Scott in the 1982 TV series Voyagers!
- Ralph Fiennes portrayed Lawrence in the 1992 British made-for-TV movie A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia.
- Joseph A. Bennett and Douglas Henshall portrayed him in the 1992 TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. In Young Indiana Jones, Lawrence is portrayed as being a lifelong friend of the title character.
- He was also portrayed in a Syrian series, directed by Thaer Mousa, called Lawrence Al Arab. The series consisted of 37 episodes, each between 45 minutes and one hour in length.
- In Spike’s season 3 of Deadliest Warrior, Lawrence was pitted against Theodore Roosevelt and lost.
- Lawrence was the subject of Terence Rattigan‘s controversial play Ross, which explored Lawrence’s alleged homosexuality. Ross ran in London in 1960–61, starring Alec Guinness, who was an admirer of Lawrence, and Gerald Harper as his blackmailer, Dickinson. The play had originally been written as a screenplay, but the planned film was never made. In January 1986 at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth, on the opening night of the revival of Ross, Marc Sinden, who was playing Dickinson (the man who recognised and blackmailed Lawrence, played by Simon Ward), was introduced to the man on whom the character of Dickinson was based. Sinden asked him why he had blackmailed Ross, and he replied, “Oh, for the money. I was financially embarrassed at the time and needed to get up to London to see a girlfriend. It was never meant to be a big thing, but a good friend of mine was very close to Terence Rattigan and years later, the silly devil told him the story.” Guinness would play Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia a year later.
- Alan Bennett‘s Forty Years On (1968) includes a satire on Lawrence; known as “Tee Hee Lawrence” because of his high-pitched, girlish giggle. “Clad in the magnificent white silk robes of an Arab prince … he hoped to pass unnoticed through London. Alas he was mistaken.” The section concludes with the headmaster confusing him with D. H. Lawrence.
- The character of Private Napoleon Meek in George Bernard Shaw‘s 1931 play Too True to Be Good was inspired by Lawrence. Meek is depicted as thoroughly conversant with the language and lifestyle of the native tribes. He repeatedly enlists with the army, quitting whenever offered a promotion. Lawrence attended a performance of the play’s original Worcestershire run, and reportedly signed autographs for patrons attending the show.
- Lawrence’s first year back at Oxford after the War to write was portrayed by Tom Rooney in a play, The Oxford Roof Climbers Rebellion, written by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte (premiered Toronto 2006). The play explores Lawrence’s reactions to war, and his friendship with Robert Graves. Urban Stages presented the American premiere in New York City in October 2007; Lawrence was portrayed by actor Dylan Chalfy.
- Lawrence’s final years are portrayed in a one-man show by Raymond Sargent, The Warrior and the Poet.
- His 1922 retreat from public life forms the subject of Howard Brenton‘s play Lawrence After Arabia, commissioned for a 2016 premiere at the Hampstead Theatre to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Arab Revolt.
- Lawrence was portrayed by Jack Lowden in the 2016 video game Battlefield 1, as a secondary character to the main protagonist Zara Ghufran, in the single-player War Story “Nothing Is Written”.
- Lawrence’s travels in Syria and France were a major plot point in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. He was said to have made it partway through the trail followed by Nathan Drake, and Lawrence’s fictional writings on the subject were invaluable to Drake.
- Suleiman Mousa
- Kingdom of Iraq
- Wilhelm Wassmuss
- Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T. E. Lawrence
- “No. 30222”. The London Gazette(Supplement). 7 August 1917. p. 8103.
- “No. 30681”. The London Gazette(Supplement). 10 May 1918. p. 5694.
- “No. 29600”. The London Gazette. 30 May 1916. p. 5321.
- “No. 30638”. The London Gazette(Supplement). 16 April 1918. p. 4716.
- Benson-Gyles, Dick (2016). The Boy in the Mask: The Hidden World of Lawrence of Arabia. The Lilliput Press.
- Aldington, 1955, p. 25.
- Alan Axelrod. Little-Known Wars of Great and Lasting Impact. Fair Winds, 2009. p. 237. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
- David Barnes. The Companion Guide to Wales. Companion Guides, 2005. p. 280. Retrieved 1 May 2011.
- “Snowdon Lodge”. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
- Mack, 1976, p. 5.
- Aldington, 1955, p. 19.
- Wilson, 1989, Appendix 1.
- Mack, 1976, p. 9.
- Mack, 1976, p. 6.
- Wilson, 1989, p. 22.
- Wilson, 1989, p. 24.
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- Larès, Maurice “T.E. Lawrence and France: Friends or Foes?” pages 220–242 from The T.E. Lawrence Puzzle edited by Stephen Tabachnick, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984 page 222.
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- Wilson, 1989, p. 136. Lawrence wrote to his parents “We are obviously only meant as red herrings to give an archaeological colour to a political job.”
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- Wilson, 1989, pp. 383–384 describes Lawrence’s arrival at this conclusion.
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