How Did T. E. Lawrence Become ‘Lawrence of Arabia’?

T. He probably would have been known as an unmarried eccentric with a fascination for old crusader buildings had the earth-shattering events of World War One not changed his life.

Instead, he has earned undying fame in the West as a glamorous and sympathetic – though greatly mythologised – explorer of the Middle East and a war hero who led charges of Arabs against the Ottoman Empire.

The beginnings of an eccentric academic

Born out of wedlock in 1888, Lawrence’s first obstacle in life was the social scorn that such a union produced in the late Victorian era. Like many lonely children before him, he spent a lot of his early life exploring as his outcast family moved from neighbourhood to neighbourhood before finally settling on Oxford in 1896.

Lawrence’s love of ancient buildings appeared early on. One of the first memorable trips of his life was a cycle ride with a friend through the picturesque countryside around Oxford; they studied every parish church they could and then showed their findings to the city’s famous Ashmolean Museum.

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As his schooldays came to an end, Lawrence ventured further afield. He studied, photographed, measured and drew medieval castles in France for two consecutive summers before beginning his studies in history at the University of Oxford in 1907.

After his trips to France, Lawrence was fascinated by the impact of the east on Europe after the Crusades, especially the architecture. He subsequently visited Ottoman-controlled Syria in 1909.

In an age before widespread automobile transport, Lawrence’s tour of Syria’s Crusader castles entailed three months of walking under a punishing desert sun. During this time, he developed a fascination for the area and a good command of Arabic.

The thesis Lawrence later penned on Crusader architecture earned him a first class honours degree from Oxford, which cemented his status as a rising star of archaeology and Middle Eastern history.

Almost as soon as he left university, Lawrence was invited to join the British Museum-sponsored excavations of the ancient city of Carchemish, which lay on the border between Syria and Turkey. Ironically, the area was much safer on the eve of World War One than it is today.

En route, the young Lawrence was able to enjoy a pleasant stay in Beirut where he continued his Arabic education. During the excavations, he met the famous explorer Gertrude Bell, which might have had an influence on his later exploits.

T.E. Lawrence (right) and British archaeologist Leonard Woolley in Carchemish, circa 1912.

In the years leading up to 1914, growing international tensions were exemplified by the Balkan wars in Eastern Europe and a series of violent coups and convulsions in the ageing Ottoman Empire.

Given the Ottoman connection with the powerful German Empire, which was at that time locked in an arms race with Britain, the latter decided that more knowledge of Ottoman lands was required in order to plan possible campaign strategies.

From Oxford academic to British military man

As a result, in January 1914 the British military co-opted Lawrence. It wanted to use his archaeological interests as a smoke-screen to extensively map and survey the Negev desert, which the Ottoman troops would have to cross in order to attack British-held Egypt.

In August, World War One finally broke out. The Ottoman alliance with Germany brought the Ottoman Empire directly at odds with the British Empire. The two empires’ many colonial possessions in the Middle East made this theatre of war almost as crucial as the western front, where Lawrence’s brothers were serving.

Lawrence’s knowledge of Arabic and Ottoman territory made him an obvious choice for the position of a staff officer. In December, he arrived in Cairo to serve as part of the Arab Bureau. After a mixed start to the war on the Ottoman front, the bureau believed that one option open to them was the exploitation of Arab nationalism.

The Arabs – custodians of the holy city of Mecca – had been chafing under Turkish Ottoman rule for a while.

Sharif Hussein, the Emir of Mecca, had made a deal with the British, promising to lead an uprising that would tie down thousands of Ottoman troops in return for Britain’s promise to recognise and guarantee the rights and privileges of an independent Arabia after the war.

Sharif Hussein, Emir of Mecca. From the documentary Promises and Betrayals: Britain’s Struggle for the Holy Land. Watch Now

There was heavy opposition to this deal from the French, who wanted Syria as a lucrative colonial possession after the war, as well as from the colonial government in India, who also wanted control of the Middle East. As a result, the Arab Bureau dithered until October 1915 when Hussein demanded an immediate commitment to his plan.

If he did not receive Britain’s support, Hussein said he would throw all the symbolic weight of Mecca behind the Ottoman cause and create a pan-Islamic jihad, with millions of Muslim subjects, that would be extremely dangerous to the British Empire. In the end, the deal was agreed and the Arab revolt began.

Lawrence, meanwhile, had been serving the Bureau faithfully, mapping Arabia, interrogating prisoners and producing a daily bulletin for the British generals in the area. He was a fervent advocate of an independent Arabia, like Gertrude Bell, and fully supported Hussein’s scheme.

By the autumn of 1916, however, the revolt had become bogged down, and there was suddenly a great risk that the Ottomans would capture Mecca. The go-to man of the Bureau, Captain Lawrence, was sent to try and shore up Hussein’s revolt.

He started by interviewing the emir’s three sons. He concluded that Faisal – the youngest – was the best qualified to become the military leader of the Arabs. It was initially meant to be a temporary appointment, but Lawrence and Faisal built up such a rapport that the Arab prince demanded the British officer remain with him.

Becoming Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence thus became directly involved with the fighting alongside the legendary Arab cavalry, and was quickly held in high esteem by Hussein and his government. One Arab officer described him as having been given the status of one of the emir’s sons. By 1918, he had a £15,000 price on his head, but noone handed him to the Ottomans.

Lawrence in the Arab dress for which he would become famous.

One of Lawrence’s most successful moments came at Aqaba on 6 July 1917. This small – but strategically important – town on the Red Sea in modern-day Jordan was at that time in Ottoman hands but wanted by the Allies.

Aqaba’s coastal location meant that it was heavily defended on its seaward side against a British naval attack, however. And so, Lawrence and the Arabs agreed that it might be taken by a lightning cavalry assault from land.

In May, Lawrence set off across the desert without telling his superiors about the plan.With a small and irregular force at his disposal, Lawrence’s cunning as an exploring officer was needed. Departing alone on a supposed reconnaissance mission, he blew up a bridge and left a false trail in an effort to convince the Ottomans that Damascus was the target of the rumoured Arab advance.

Auda abu Tayeh, the Arab leader of the exhibition, then lead a cavalry charge against the misled Turkish infantry guarding the landward approach to Aqaba, managing to scatter them superbly. In revenge for the Turkish killing of Arab prisoners, more than 300 Turks were killed before Auda put a stop to the massacre.

As a group of British ships began to shell Aqaba, Lawrence (who nearly died when he was unhorsed in the charge) and his allies secured the surrender of the town, after its defences had been comprehensively outflanked. Delighted by this success, he galloped across the Sinai desert to alert his command in Cairo of the news.

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With Abaqa taken, the Arab forces were able to link up with the British further north. This made possible the fall of Damascus in October 1918, which effectively ended the Ottoman Empire.

The revolt had succeeded and saved flagging British efforts in the region, but Hussein would not get his wish.

Though the Arab nationalists were initially granted an unstable independent kingdom in western Arabia, much of the rest of the Middle East was divided between France and Britain.

British support for Hussein’s unstable kingdom was withdrawn after the war, while the emir’s former territory fell to the imperialistic Saud family, who set up the new kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This kingdom was far more anti-western and in favour of Islamic conservatism than Hussein had been.

Lawrence, meanwhile, died in a motorcycle crash in 1937 – but given the repercussions that the region is still experiencing from British meddling during World War One, his story remains as interesting and relevant as ever.

How T. E. Lawrence found paradise in Dorset

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Arab Revolt, the desert uprising sparked by T.E. Lawrence, the shy academic turned World War I guerilla who did much to shape the modern Middle East before escaping to Dorset.

The painful lessons learned by Lawrence in 1916 have never been more pertinent: Isis, al-Qaeda, Syria, et al.

As General Sir Graeme Lamb, a former commander of British Special Forces and one-time deputy commander in Iraq, points out: “Harnessing the anti-Isis forces will be a similar challenge to Lawrence’s 1916 Revolt.

“His 27 Articles on how to deal with Arab armies is insightful: ‘Hide your own mind and person. If you succeed, you will have hundreds of miles of country and thousands of men under your orders, and for this it is worth bartering the outward show. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them’.”

Lawrence folklore has long presented him as a hero who rallied the Arabs to rise up against the Ottoman Empire, guided them to great victories and lobbied for the Arab cause.

His complex and powerful personality impressed itself upon a range of luminaries, from Winston Churchill to George Bernard Shaw.


The film is presented in two parts, divided by an intermission.

Part I Edit

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 the remarkable, enigmatic man from those who knew him.

The story then moves back to the First World War. Lawrence is a misfit British Army lieutenant who is 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 Faisal in his revolt against the Turks. On the journey, his Bedouin guide, Tafas, 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 pessimistic Sherif Ali. The teenage orphans Daud and Farraj attach themselves to Lawrence as servants. They cross the Nefud Desert, considered impassable even by the Bedouins, and travel 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 Arab robes to Lawrence 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. Since retaliation by the Howeitat would shatter the fragile alliance, Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. Lawrence is then stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the man whom he risked his own life to save in the desert, but Lawrence 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 major and given arms and money for the Arabs. He is deeply disturbed and confesses that he enjoyed executing Gasim, but Allenby brushes aside his qualms. Lawrence asks Allenby whether there is any basis for the Arabs' suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia. When pressed, Allenby states that there is none.

Part II Edit

Lawrence launches a guerrilla war by blowing up trains and harassing the Turks at every turn. An American war correspondent, Jackson Bentley, publicises Lawrence's exploits and makes him famous. On one raid, Farraj is badly injured. Unwilling to leave him to be tortured by the enemy, Lawrence shoots him dead before he flees.

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 he is thrown into the street. The experience leaves Lawrence shaken. He returns to British headquarters in Cairo but does not fit in.

A short time later in Jerusalem, General Allenby urges him to support the "big push" on Damascus. Lawrence hesitates to return but finally relents.

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 and 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. He then 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.

    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. [10]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.[11] Pictures of Lawrence suggest also that O'Toole bore some resemblance to him, [12] 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". [13] 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. 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. 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 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. as Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish. 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. [14] 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. 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. [15] 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. 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. as Mr. Dryden. Like Sherif Ali and Colonel Brighton, Dryden was an amalgamation of several historical figures, primarily Ronald Storrs, a member of the Arab Bureau, but also David George Hogarth, an archaeologist friend of Lawrence Henry McMahon, the High Commissioner of Egypt who negotiated the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence which effectively trigged the Arab Revolt and Mark Sykes, who helped draw up the Sykes–Picot Agreement which co-divided the post-war Middle East. Robert Bolt stated that the character was created to "represent the civilian and political wing of British interests, to balance Allenby's military objectives." [16] 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. [17] 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. [18] as General Murray. He releases Lawrence to Mr. Dryden. Calls the British occupying Arabia as "a sideshow of a sideshow." as Gasim. Johar was a well-known Indian actor who occasionally appeared in international productions. as Majid. Ratib was a veteran Egyptian actor. His English was not considered good enough, so he was dubbed by Robert Rietti (uncredited) [citation needed] in the final film. 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.
  • John Dimech as Daud as Tafas. Mohyeddin was one of Pakistan's best-known actors. as the medical officer. He was cast at the last possible minute during the filming of the Damascus scenes in Seville. as the club secretary. Gwillim was recommended to Lean for the film by close friend Quayle. as the RAMC colonel. He 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). as a Damascus sheik (uncredited)
  • Kenneth Fortescue as Allenby's aide (uncredited) [19] as Corporal Potter (uncredited) [20] as a reporter (uncredited) as Michael George Hartley, Lawrence's companion in O'Toole's first scene (uncredited) as Silliam, Faisal's servant (uncredited) as Corporal Jenkins (uncredited) [19] as Elder Harith (uncredited) [19] as the Turkish sergeant (uncredited)
  • Stuart Saunders as the regimental sergeant major (uncredited)

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. [21] 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). [22] 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.

  • Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish: 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.
  • 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 an invention of Wilson or Bolt.

Most of the film's characters are based on actual people to varying degrees. Some scenes were heavily fictionalised, such as the attack on Aqaba, and those dealing with the Arab Council were inaccurate since 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 (Wilson's draft script had a broader, more politicised version of events). The second half of the film presents a fictional desertion of Lawrence's Arab army, almost to a man, as he moved farther 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's meeting with Faisal is in late 1917, after the fall of Aqaba, and mentions that the United States has not yet entered the war, but the US had been in the war since April. 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 the execution of Gasim are 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 Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle) the only British officer 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. [23] In addition, there was a French military mission led by Colonel Edouard Brémond serving in the Hejaz but it is not mentioned in the film. [24] The film shows Lawrence as the sole originator of the attacks on the Hejaz railroad. The first attacks began in early January 1917 led by officers such as Newcombe. [25] 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. [26]

The film shows the Hashemite forces as consisting of Bedouin guerrillas, but the core of the Hashemite forces was the regular Arab Army recruited from Ottoman Arab prisoners of war, who wore British-style uniforms with keffiyehs and fought in conventional battles. [27] 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 Edit

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'Toole was almost 9 inches (23 cm) taller than the 5-foot-5-inch (1.65 m) Lawrence. [28] His behaviour, however, has caused much more debate.

The screenwriters depict Lawrence as an egotist. It is not clear to what degree Lawrence sought or shunned attention, as evidenced by his use of various assumed names after the war. Even during the war, Lowell Thomas wrote in With Lawrence in Arabia that he could take pictures of him only by tricking him, but Lawrence later agreed to pose for several photos for Thomas's stage show. Thomas's famous comment that Lawrence "had a genius for backing into the limelight" can be taken to suggest that his extraordinary actions prevented him from being as private as he would have liked, or it can be taken to suggest that Lawrence made a pretence of avoiding the limelight but subtly placed himself at centre stage. Others point 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 a homosexual. That is opposed to his portrayal in Ross as "physically and spiritually recluse". [29] Historians such as Basil Liddell Hart disputed the film's depiction of Lawrence as an active participant in the attack and slaughter of the retreating Turkish columns who had committed the Tafas massacre, but most current biographers accept the film's portrayal as reasonably accurate.

The film shows that Lawrence spoke 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 and ignores his espionage work, including a prewar topographical survey of the Sinai Peninsula and his attempts to negotiate the release of British prisoners at Kut, Mesopotamia, in 1916. Furthermore, Lawrence is made aware of the Sykes–Picot Agreement very late in the story and is shown to be appalled by it, but he may well have known about it much earlier while he fought alongside the Arabs. [30]

Lawrence's biographers have a mixed reaction towards the film. The 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 being real, rather than a composite character, and also the highlighting the Deraa incident. [31] The film's historical inaccuracies, in Wilson's view, are more troublesome than should be allowed under normal dramatic licence. At the time, Liddell Hart publicly criticised the film and engaged Bolt in a lengthy correspondence over its portrayal of Lawrence. [32]

Representation of other characters Edit

The film portrays General Allenby as cynical and manipulative, with a superior attitude to Lawrence, but there is much evidence that Allenby and Lawrence liked and respected each other. Lawrence once said that Allenby was "an admiration of mine" [33] and later that he was "physically large and confident and morally so great that the comprehension of our littleness came slow to him". [34] 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." [35] Allenby also spoke highly of him numerous times and, much to Lawrence's delight, publicly endorsed the accuracy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Although Allenby manipulated Lawrence during the war, 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 in which Allenby coldly allows the town to fall into chaos as the Arab Council collapses. [36]

Similarly, General Murray was initially sceptical of the Arab Revolt's potential but 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 the opposite of Murray's real feelings, but 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. Although Auda at first joined the revolt for monetary reasons, he quickly became a steadfast supporter of Arab independence, notably after Aqaba's capture. Despite repeated bribery attempts by the Turks, he happily pocketed their money but remained loyal to the revolt and went 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 to plan it, along with Lawrence and Prince Faisal.

Faisal was far from being the middle-aged man depicted since he was in his early thirties at the time of the revolt. Faisal and Lawrence respected each other's capabilities and intelligence and worked well together. [37]

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 and went on a campaign in the United States and Britain to denounce the film. He famously said, "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" and 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, he 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 of most of the film's characters and believed that the train attack scenes were the only reasonably accurate aspect of the film.

Criticisms were not restricted to Lawrence. Allenby's family lodged a formal complaint against Columbia about his portrayal. Descendants of Auda abu Tayi and the real Sherif Ali, Sharif Nassir, went further by suing Columbia although the film's Ali was a fictional composite character. The Auda case went on for almost 10 years before it was dropped. [38]

The film has its defenders. Biographer Michael Korda, the 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." However, 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." [39] Stephen E. Tabachnick goes further than Korda by arguing that the film's portrayal of Lawrence is "appropriate and true to the text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom". [40] A British historian of the Arab Revolt, David Murphy, wrote that although the film was flawed by various inaccuracies and omissions, "it was a truly epic movie and is rightly seen as a classic." [41]

Pre-production Edit

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. [42] 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. [43] 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. [44]

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, despite extensive pre-production work, including location scouting in India and a meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru. [45] 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. [46]

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. [47]

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. [48]

Filming Edit

The film was made by Horizon Pictures and distributed by Columbia Pictures. Principal photography began on 15 May 1961 and ended on 21 September 1962. [49]

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. Hussein himself visited the set several times during production and maintained cordial relationships with cast and crew. 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.

Lean planned to film in 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 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 Playa del Algarrobico, southern Spain (at 37°1′25″N 1°52′53″W  /  37.02361°N 1.88139°W  / 37.02361 -1.88139 ) 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. [50]

The film's production was frequently delayed because shooting commenced without a finished script. Wilson quit early in the production, and 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 to be released from jail and continue working on the script.

O'Toole was not used to riding camels and found the saddle to be uncomfortable. 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". [51] 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.

Jordan banned the film for what was felt to be a disrespectful portrayal of Arab culture. [12] 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.

Super Panavision technology was used to shoot the film, meaning that spherical lenses were used instead of anamorphic ones, and the image was exposed on a 65 mm negative, then printed onto a 70 mm positive to leave room for the soundtracks. Rapid cutting was more disturbing on the wide screen, so 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. [52] David Lean was asked whether he could handle CinemaScope: "If one had an eye for composition, there would be no problem." [53]

O'Toole did not share Lawrence's love of the desert and stated in an interview: "I loathe it." [54]

Music Edit

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. [55] 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 [56] 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. [57]

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. [58]

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.

Theatrical run Edit

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.

Random Things About Lawrence of Arabia (14 items)

Thomas Edward Lawrence was the illegitimate son of Thomas Chapman, an Irish nobleman of British ancestry. Chapman originally married a woman named Edith Hamilton and had four daughters however, as his wife got older, she became devoutly and unpleasantly religious. Chapman eventually became involved with the governess named Sarah Lawrence.

When Lawrence accidently became pregnant, Chapman relocated her to Dublin and continued living with his wife until she became aware of the situation. Then, in 1886, Chapman left his wife and moved to Wales, where the new family assumed the name Lawrence. Chapman and Sarah's second son was born on August 16, 1888, and was named Thomas Edward Lawrence. The couple would go on to have five children together - all sons.

(#2) Lawrence's Rape At The Hands Of Turkish Soldiers Was Probably Fabricated

One of the more sensational claims made by Lawrence in his memoir was his alleged beating and rape by members of the Turkish guard at the Syrian garrison at Deraa on November 20, 1917. The incident was also graphically depicted in the 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia .

Subsequent analysis indicates that not only was the rape a fabrication, but that Lawrence was not even in Deraa during that time according to his diary and letters home to his family. Lawrence began making this claim in 1919, both to embarrass the Arab militants of the region and to gratify himself with a sadomasochistic fantasy, which would embroider his forthcoming memoir. The only basis for this incident appears in the words of Lawrence himself in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom - a highly suspect source.

(#3) The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom Was Dedicated To Lawrence's 15-Year-Old Male Lover

T. E. Lawrence's sexuality has always been a subject of controversy. Lawrence was not only a homosexual, but also a deeply repressed sadomasochist who was tormented by a strict childhood that frequently involved corporal punishment and brutal beatings from both of his parents.

Lawrence first traveled to the Middle East to participate in an archeological expedition at Carchemish, in present day Syria. There, in 1911, he became involved with a 15-year-old Arab worker named Selim Ahmed, nicknamed Dahoum, which means "The Little Dark One." Like most issues involving Lawrence, what exactly his relationship with Dahoum was remains unclear, but they certainly cohabitated, and Lawrence even took Dahoum and his Arab foreman to visit Lawrence's home in Oxford.

Diplomatic tension forced Lawrence to leave Carchemish in June of 1914, and when he returned to the region in 1918, he was informed that Dahoum had died of typhus in 1916. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom was dedicated to "S. A." with the additional inscription:

"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, that seven-pillared worthy house, that your eyes might be shining for me when we came. "

Although "S. A." was never publicly identified, it is presumed to be Selim Ahmed, one of the few individuals that the deeply conflicted Lawrence is even rumored to have been involved with in a romantic relationship.

(#4) The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom Was A Publishing Fiasco

Before World War I ended, Lawrence had already begun compiling notes for a potential book. And when he finally returned to England after the war, he immediately got to work on the first draft, which reached 250,000 words. However, the manuscript would ultimately disappear when Lawrence's brief case was stolen at a train station in November of 1919.

This was doubly catastrophic for Lawrence, as he had systematically destroyed his notes as he composed his initial draft. He attempted to rewrite the piece from memory, but it became an effort that even he described as "hopelessly bad." He then went on to peddle a version of this manuscript to the American publisher Doubleday, on the condition that it only be published in America, which the firm ultimately refused.

Lawrence would struggle to publish a third version of his manuscript, initially printing only eight copies meant for critical review by friends and publishing professionals. It would not be until 1924 that a limited run of this third version of a book - by now officially entitled The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom - would be sold through private subscription. By the time this edition was finally in production, Lawrence was so broke that he had no choice but to release an abridged version to the general public titled Revolt In The Desert . The full subscriber edition of Seven Pillars was not ultimately released until Lawrence's death in 1935.

(#5) His Account Of His Ride To Aqaba Was Exaggerated

Few historical figures have been as celebrated as Lawrence of Arabia. Both Lawrence's own autobiography and the epic David Lean film about his life depict a courageous expedition across a barren desert into the Turkish-occupied town of Aqaba in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

Lean's film especially dramatizes a sweeping charge made against bristling defenses. In fact, no such action took place - the attack consisted of capturing modestly defended forts, a relatively simple exercise as these structures were only designed to repel an attack from the sea. Lawrence also claimed that he crossed the Sinai desert in a little more than two days to inform the British at Suez that Aqaba had been captured and required reinforcing. However, this arduous trek took much longer.

(#6) Lawrence Was A Spy Who Accessed The Middle East Under An Archeological Guise

Lawrence graduated with honors from Oxford, but rejected a post-graduate scholarship, intent on joining an archeological excavation team in Syria. He would go on to spend the next four years in Syria, taking only a few trips back to Britain - and he might have spent the rest of his life doing so had the war not encroached on his expedition. Because of his Oxford connections, he was recruited into a clandestine role in British intelligence, becoming one of the few English nationals inhabiting the region. When war officially broke out, he became a full fledged member of the British military.

(#7) Lawrence Refused A Knighthood Upon His Return To Great Britain After The War

Near the end of of World War I, Lawrence returned to Great Britain and was summoned to Buckingham Palace by King George V. His valuable contribution to British efforts in the Middle East were well known among the British military high command, and Lawrence was to be rewarded with a knighthood in front of a private audience on October 30, 1918.

But Lawrence, thinking they would be meeting to discuss Arab interests in the region, refused the honor and abruptly exited the palace, leaving his royal hosts stunned and confused. By late 1918, Lawrence had become aware of the Sykes-Picot agreement made by the British and French to carve up the Middle East among themselves and to exclude their Arab counterparts from any official prominence. Feeling betrayed and embarrassed by his role in the process, Lawrence used this invitation to convey his disappointment.

(#8) When Two Of Lawrence's Brothers Were Killed In Action, He Decided To Act

During World War I, Lawrence was initially assigned to an intelligence desk job in Cairo. Then, in May of 1915, his younger brother Frank died in the trenches of France and in October of the same year his brother William was killed while serving as an observer in the Royal Air Corps.

Lawrence's mission was "to collect every possible bit of information about Turkish and German influence in the Middle East and act on it in the field." Bored with his bureaucratic existence in Egypt, in 1916, Lawrence got himself re-assigned to the Hejaz, a strip of land on the Arabian Peninsula ruled by Sharif Hussein, a member of the Hashemite dynasty that would eventually rule present day Jordan and, until 1958, Iraq. Lawrence would assist the prominent emir, Sharif Hussein, and his son Feisal in leading a revolt against the Turkish Ottoman Empire, beginning in January of 1917. Most of Lawrence's activity involved coordinating the destruction of strategic rail connections and guerrilla attacks by his Bedouin comrades.

(#9) Lawrence Spoke Seven Languages And Could Quote The Koran

Among his many accomplishments, T. E. Lawrence was a brilliant student. When he took his exams to enroll at Oxford, he ranked 12th out of the roughly 5,000 students taking the test. Lawrence's value as an intelligence agent was also greatly enhanced by his ability to master the Arabic language when he first journeyed to the Middle East. He would eventually pick up Assyrian and Turkish during his posting in the region, adding to his mastery of French, German, Latin, and Greek. Lawrence was also fascinated by Arab culture and was quite knowledgeable about the Koran, able to quote passages to his undoubtedly impressed Arab counterparts.

(#10) After His World War I Service, Lawrence Rejoined The Military Under A Pseudonym

Lawrence was so psychologically and financially worn out by his continuous attempts at publishing an autobiography that he opted to enlist in the Royal Air Force under the pseudonym, "John Hume Ross." However, he was discharged only a few months later when his identity was revealed by the press. He then joined the Royal Tank Corps, but became frustrated with his assignment and successfully petitioned to return to the RAF in 1925. He remained in the RAF until 1935, being discharged shortly before his death when his enlistment concluded.

(#11) Lawrence's Post-War Home, Clouds Hill, Was A Hut With No Plumbing Or Kitchen

In accordance with his reclusive existence and search for anonymity, Lawrence began to spend time at a vacation rental in the Dorset region of England. This tiny hut, known as Clouds Hill, consisted of three bare rooms and no plumbing, electricity, or lighting other than candlelight, and it only had the barest of insulation installed by Lawrence himself.

Lawrence officially purchased the building in 1925 and spent as much time there as possible. He kept his residence minimal, and slept only with a sleeping bag, having just one additional sleeping bag designated for any overnight visitors. It was to this residence that Lawrence retired after leaving the military in early 1935, likely unsure of his future and afflicted with the depression that he endured for most of his life. He would then be seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and die of head injuries in the hospital on May 19, 1935. Local police estimated that at the time of his accident, Lawrence was traveling at approximately 100 mph, the limit of his Brough Superior motorcycle.

(#12) Lawrence Became A Recluse After World War I

When World War I ended, Arab interests were shunted aside and the region was divided up by the French and British into colonies that would last well into the century. During the Paris Peace Conferences of 1919, Lawrence served as an intermediary between the various Arab leaders that he had served with in the Middle East and the victorious powers of the West.

Despite his best efforts to establish independent, Arab controlled states, Lawrence's wishes were ignored. Embittered by this betrayal and ashamed at his role in this duplicity, Lawrence became even more appalled by his newfound celebrity, which he considered to be both false and undeserved. As a result, he retreated as often as possible to Clouds Hill, a particularly remote location in the '20s and '30s, in an attempt to hide from the world. Lawrence also declared that he would accept no funds from the composition of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom , but whether he maintained this attitude permanently is still unclear.

(#13) Lawrence Was Unknown During World War I

Lowell Thomas was an iconoclastic journalist and filmmaker who pioneered documentary film. Sickened by the brutality faced on Europe's Western Front, Thomas decided to shift his attention to the warfare occurring in the Middle East. He was therefore able to film T. E. Lawrence for several weeks, acquiring both still shots and film reels of the exotic and charismatic Briton.

This footage would not be viewed by the public until after the war ended, but Thomas was eventually able to schedule a lecture tour that included appearances throughout Great Britain. His London tour was booked two weeks out, but would continue for six months. Thomas's publicity in Great Britain and elsewhere made Lawrence a global celebrity - a status that the reclusive soldier outwardly disliked. Of Lawrence's attitude, Thomas made the statement, "He had a genius for backing into the limelight."

(#14) Lawrence Was Very Short In Stature

Although his exploits and larger-than-life personality would indicate that Lawrence was also an imposing physical figure, this was not case. Possibly because of a childhood case of the mumps, Lawrence stood only 5' 5" tall. His dedication to physical exercise and driven personality might have, in fact, been an attempt to compensate for his slight stature. His head was also quite large and seemed awkward when compared with the rest of his physique. Interestingly, David Lean would cast Peter O'Toole - who stood 6'3" - to play Lawrence in his film.

About This Tool

Thomas Edward Lawrence is also known as Lawrence of Arabia, was famous for his role as a British liaison officer in the Arab Uprisings from 1916 to 1918. Many Arabs still regard him as a folk hero, who promoted their ideals of freedom from the Ottoman Empire and European rule. Lawrence has many famous friends, including Winston Churchill, the famous writer Bernard Shaw, etc.

His contribution to the cause of Arab nationalist liberation was recognized and accepted by most people, even though he was an intelligence officer and spy for the United Kingdom. His deeds have also become one of the famous legends in British military history. The random tool shares 14 facts about Lawrence of Arabia that few people know.

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Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

The opening scene of director David Lean&rsquos 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia is the end for its titular character, acting both as prologue and epilogue. Moments after the main title sequence concludes and the final credit fades, T.E. Lawrence (Peter O&rsquoToole) is killed in a motorcycle crash on a quiet road in South West England. Lawrence&rsquos death is the viewer&rsquos introduction to the decorated British Army officer and controversial hero of The Great War &ndash a figure whose exploits and global accolades would seem to preclude such an inglorious fate. And yet it is here outside a quaint cottage in Dorset that we first meet Lawrence, filling the oil tank on his Brough Superior motorbike before heading out for a ride.

With the exception of composer Maurice Jarre&rsquos music &ndash which bounces between jaunty and sweeping &ndash Lawrence of Arabia&rsquos main title sequence stands in stark contrast to the rest of the film. The music promises high adventure and romance, but the images presented do not reflect that mood. The only life on screen is Lawrence, walking into frame just as the film&rsquos title card appears. His drab suit a far cry from the flowing white robes that carried him through the desert, the dull grey of the courtyard no substitute for the endless red and yellow sands of The Nefud. The motorcycle is Lawrence&rsquos only respite from the ordinary, a means to return to some place, some oasis thought swallowed up by the desert long ago. Many dream of such a return, but for some it is their undoing.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) original theatrical trailer

Lawrence of Arabia&rsquos title sequence was shot over several days in Almeria, Spain in the summer of 1962. A Brough Superior SS100 motorbike &ndash a hand-built motorcycle nearly identical to the one Lawrence rode on the day of his death &ndash was shipped from England for the shoot. In the absence of an English courtyard, a wooden stage was painted to resemble pavement and a high angle was used to hide the scene&rsquos decidedly Spanish surroundings. (It is possible this unique high angle shot may have inspired the opening of director Jacques Demy&rsquos 1964 film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.) The scene immediately following the title sequence, in which Lawrence is seen riding off to his doom, was actually shot in Surrey, England several months later &ndash a fact that is immediately apparent for several reasons, not the least of which is the marked difference in lighting between the two shots. The hard light of a summer&rsquos afternoon in Spain is difficult to mistake for a muddy fall day in England.

Peter O'Toole and director David Lean filming the Lawrence of Arabia main title sequence in Almeria, Spain, May 24, 1962. (Photo by Costume Designer Phyllis Dalton)

While elaborate, standalone title sequences were already in vogue in Hollywood when Lawrence of Arabia went into production (thanks largely to the work of Saul Bass), at the same time new widescreen camera systems like TODD-AO and Super Panavision 70 were being introduced to provide audiences with new visual experiences as well. Lawrence was one of the first films to be photographed using Super Panavision 70, and so its producer wanted to take full advantage of this new system. Why waste precious frames on an animated title sequence when your camera can capture images with such incredible fidelity and scope? During the opening, the ultra wide 2.20:1 image allowed Director of Photography F.A. Young to comfortably frame Lawrence and his bike in one part of the screen and the credits type in the other. Although comparatively plain to look at in view of the rest of the film, Lawrence of Arabia&rsquos opening sequence is a beautifully presented hint to viewers this movie will require them to take in every part of the screen.

Although technically brilliant and beautifully simple, the opening title sequence &ndash specifically its credits &ndash would become a point of contention for nearly four decades as detailed in Adrian Turner&rsquos book The Making of David Lean's Lawrence Arabia. Lawrence of Arabia&rsquos original screenwriter, Michael Wilson, had been blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1951, but continued to work throughout the 1950s either under a pseudonym or without credit. Wilson along with fellow blacklisted writer Carl Foreman had been denied a screen credit on director David Lean&rsquos previous film, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for this very reason. That film eventually won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (then called Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), but instead of going to Wilson and Foreman the award went to French author Pierre Boulle, upon whose book the film was based. Boulle, who had nothing to do with Kwai&rsquos screenplay and did not speak a word of English, was the only writer given credit on the film due to Wilson and Foreman&rsquos blacklist status.

Blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson

In correspondence with Wilson, Lean blamed this screen credit slight on producer Sam Spiegel. However, as many who have written about the filmmaker have noted, it is difficult to believe a director with Lean&rsquos authoritarian reputation would have been unaware of such an omission, particularly in the politically charged climate of the late &lsquo50s. Despite Wilson&rsquos negative experience on The Bridge on the River Kwai, the screenwriter eventually became involved in Lean and Spiegel&rsquos next project: an adaptation of T. E. Lawrence&rsquos autobiographical tale Seven Pillars of Wisdom &ndash the film that would become Lawrence of Arabia.

Although the Hollywood blacklist ostensibly ended in 1960 when screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was publicly credited for his work on Spartacus and Exodus, the insidious effects of the ban lasted for many years afterward, especially where works produced during the blacklist were concerned. Wilson, who had begun work on the Lawrence of Arabia screenplay in 1958, signed a contract that stated the film&rsquos producer would do their best to secure the writer screen credit in the &ldquoWestern Hemisphere&rdquo, but even during the waning years of the McCarthy era that was hardly an ironclad guarantee. After working on the film for nearly 15 months and turning in three completed drafts, Wilson departed the project over creative differences with Lean, who reportedly disliked the screenwriter&rsquos focus on the political aspects of Lawrence&rsquos story. Lean then hired A Man for All Seasons playwright Robert Bolt to rewrite Wilson&rsquos script, transforming the film from a complex historical drama into the more focused character study that would ultimately be produced.

Screenwriter Robert Bolt in 1966

Upon reading Bolt&rsquos finished screenplay, Wilson sent a letter to Lawrence of Arabia's producer, Sam Spiegel. Wilson noted that while little of his original dialogue remained in the shooting script, numerous original scenes he&rsquod devised for the earlier drafts remained intact, both in terms of their structure and order in the film. He requested a joint screenwriting credit with Bolt. Spiegel&rsquos lawyers replied to Wilson stating that the screenwriter had no contractual right to demand a credit and thus would not be given any.

In spite of Wilson&rsquos last minute appeals to the Writer&rsquos Guild of America, Lawrence of Arabia premiered on December 10, 1962 without his credit. In a subsequent appeal to the WGA, Wilson outlined the scenes and structural similarities between he and Bolt&rsquos respective scripts, making the case that his contributions to the finished film were enough to warrant recognition. Under the Guild rules of the time, in order for a screenwriter to receive a screen credit, he or she must have contributed at least one-third of the final screenplay, both in terms of structure and continuity and/or dialogue. After a lengthy arbitration process, the WGA would eventually side with Wilson, but sadly the writer would not be credited on screen until nearly 25 years after his death.

One major difference between Wilson and Bolt&rsquos respective Lawrence scripts was, ironically, the source of all the trouble: the film&rsquos main title sequence. While Bolt&rsquos screenplay outlines what eventually ended up in Lean&rsquos film almost beat for beat, Wilson&rsquos script envisaged an opening less about the man, T.E. Lawrence, and more about the myth of &lsquoEl Aurens&rsquo &ndash Lawrence of Arabia. The main title and credits were to have appeared over a shot of a ruined temple, seven stone pillars lying broken and partly buried in sand. Not only is this image a direct allusion to the title of Lawrence&rsquos Seven Pillars of Wisdom &ndash an account of his wartime experiences and the basis for Wilson&rsquos screenplay &ndash but it is symbolic of the ultimate impermanence men&rsquos deeds, great or otherwise. As written, both Wilson and Bolt&rsquos opening sequences have much to say about Lawrence, servicing the character and the film&rsquos story in different ways. However, Bolt&rsquos version was the one filmed, and the one now emblazoned in the minds of generations of film watchers.

An excerpt from Robert Bolt's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) screenplay detailing the main title sequence.

Michael Wilson died in 1978. Despite the WGA ruling in his favour shortly after the release of Lawrence of Arabia, he never lived to see his screen credit added to the movie. Wilson&rsquos family reportedly lobbied Columbia Pictures with the support of the WGA when work began on the director&rsquos cut of the film in the late 1980s, but failed to secure approval from Lean. The film was again released without Wilson&rsquos writing credit in 1989. It was not until 2002 &ndash the 40th anniversary of Lawrence&rsquos release &ndash when Sony Pictures undertook a digital restoration of the film for a DVD release that Wilson finally got his on screen credit, which has remained in all versions of the film released since.

A discussion with GROVER CRISP, Executive Vice President, Asset Management, Film Restoration & Digital Mastering at Sony Pictures.

I was fascinated to learn that blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson had his credit added to the restored version of Lawrence of Arabia in 2002 some forty years after the original release. Could you tell us about the decision to do that and what the process involved?

Grover: For the 40th anniversary 2002 release of Lawrence of Arabia, both on film and for the DVD releases, we wanted to add Michael Wilson to the credit for the screenplay. Some years earlier, the WGA made the determination that he deserved credit and that the studio should give him that credit in the future releases of the film.

This film posed some problems in that the main titles are over one continuous, locked-off shot, which meant it would be difficult to add the name for the film prints. On video, we would be able to digitally make the addition, but I wanted to be able to make film prints with the corrected credit. So, we undertook to recreate the entire main title credits by using the original textless background shot, which we had on 65mm negative.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) main titles from the 40th anniversary restoration

I understand that Pacific Title spent two months rebuilding the titles for the 2002 restoration.

Grover: We worked at Pacific Title, as you mentioned. I can&rsquot recall who specifically worked on recreating the font style, which was unique to the film. We scanned the composited film elements and transferred to the video master, but also had a negative that we could print from, bypassing what was actually on the original negative, without the Wilson credit. I thought the work done was really nice and we used it for the film prints and for the DVD releases on video. Another item, the Columbia Lady logo at the head, was also unique: a still painting of the logo that was used only on this film.

Are there any differences between the 40th and 50th anniversary releases of Lawrence of Arabia in terms of the main title sequence?

Grover: When it came time for the 50th anniversary release in 2012, we decided not to use the credit shot that was created for the 2002 release and, instead, we used the credits in the original negative, to make it as authentic as possible.

The screenplay credit as it appeared in earlier versions of Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

The screenplay credit as it appears in the restored version of Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Grover: We digitally added the Wilson credit here at the studio with all the other credits unchanged from the original. We had a graphics/special effects artist map the font style and recreated it. Was fairly simple and straightforward this time. And, since we were not making film prints this time, but 4K DCP for the theatrical release, it worked out really well.

Are there any other films from the blacklist era that have had their credits restored in this way?

Grover: This was not the first time we have done this. Wilson and Carl Foreman were blacklisted at the time they wrote The Bridge on the River Kwai and the credit on screen went to the writer of the novel, Pierre Boulle.

The screenplay credit as it appears in the original version of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Grover: When we were working on a prior DVD release of Bridge, we used the elements created in the early 90s for a release of the film on print. At that time, they had access to the 35mm textless background, but the main titles are over a series of shots with hard cuts and dissolves. So, they were able to create the screenwriter credits and, as I recall, one other credit, since both credits were in the same shot. The match to the font was okay, but not very precise and slightly different in colour. When we did the 4K restoration a few years ago, we faced the same situation.

The main title sequence for Bridge has always been troubling from a quality perspective in that some of the optical duplication work was okay, some really dreadful, making it difficult to get good resolution and colour out of the film elements themselves. So, when we worked on the 4K restoration and got a good look at the full textless background we saw that it was actually a much better element than the optical title sequence cut onto the original negative. In this case we wanted to try to make use of it as best we could.

The screenplay credit as it appears in the restored version of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Grover: In the final analysis, we decided to recreate the titles in their entirety, allowing us to seamlessly add the writers credits, but also giving us a somewhat better background than we would have had, in both colour control and sharpness. Our graphics/special effects artist did a magnificent job on those credits, again a unique font style, particularly the main title itself. We mapped over the original, of course, but there were tweaks and corrections here and there to have it as authentically identical as possible. No one ever commented on it to me, so I guess no one ever noticed it.

Then and now: the Savoy

For the brief 16 years it was open to guests, the Savoy was Cairo’s most aristocratic hotel. It was a third venture for the indefatigable George Nungovich, the earliest of Cairo’s hotel czars (who I’ve blogged about earlier, here).

A palace belonging to Prince Djemil Toussoun didn’t meet requirements and the building and its grounds were bought up by Nungovich. The site was at the heart of the new Ismailia quarter, on Qasr al-Nil Street, overlooking the Rond Point Qasr al-Nil (see map below). Nungovich had the palace pulled down and replaced with a grand new building of three stories topped by a rotunda.

This he named the Savoy Hotel and it opened on 28 November 1898. It was described at the time as being remarkably modern with a large dining room and smaller restaurant, spacious lounges, smoking rooms, a reading room in ornamental Egyptian style, electric lift and a wide terrace overlooking Qasr al-Nil Street. Each bedroom had a fireplace and new furniture from Waring and Gillow of Oxford Street, London, and there were suites with private bath and toilet on each floor.

It was aimed at the class of people who might find Shepheard’s and the Grand Continental, then Cairo’s leading hotels, a bit vulgar. High society checking in at the Savoy in its early years included a young Winston Churchill, fresh from his adventures as a war correspondent in South Africa, Sir Benjamin Baker and Sir John Aird, the architect and contractor of the Aswan Dam, then under construction, and African colonialist Cecil Rhodes. When General Kitchener and his officers arrived in Cairo triumphant after victory at the Battle of Omdurman in September 1899, they were honored with a grand banquet on the Savoy’s terrace.

Flags were flown over the hotel whenever a royal was staying. First to be hoisted was the white elephant on red, in respect of the visit of the King of Siam. King Albert of Belgium, however, objected to the practice and demanded the flag be removed or he’d leave. In 1905, when the white-haired, 80-year-old ex-empress Eugénie returned to Egypt 36 years after opening the Suez Canal, she took rooms at the Savoy. King George V and Queen Mary, then Prince and Princess of Wales, stayed on their way back from India a couple of years later.

The Crown Prince of Germany being greeted by the manager of the Savoy, Auguste Wild

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, in October 1914, the hotel was taken over by the British Army – as I noted in a previous post, TE Lawrence worked out of an office here from December of that year. When the war ended, the British Government elected to hold on to the hotel and it became a business address for British-owned companies. In 1924 it was sold to Charles Baehler, chief shareholder of Egyptian Hotels Ltd, who tore the building down. He replaced it with a grand commercial and apartment complex that still stands today facing onto what’s now Talaat Harb Square. Ironically, the Baehler Buildings, as they’re known, have themselves now become a totem of modern Downtown’s architectural heritage, cherished by conservationists, who are possibly unaware that the buildings in fact took the place of an establishment of far greater pedigree.

The Baehler Buildings on Talaat Harb Square now occupy the site of the former Savoy

How Imperial Ambitions Stirred a Pot That’s Now Boiling Over

Scott Anderson’s fine, sophisticated, richly detailed “Lawrence in Arabia” is filled with invaluably complex and fine-tuned information. This demanding but eminently readable account of the Middle East during World War I is certainly no hagiographic T. E. Lawrence biography, as the tiny nuance (“in,” not “of”) coloring its title makes clear.

Mr. Anderson does not filter the tricky history of a crucially important era through any individual’s perspective. Nor does he see Lawrence as the only schemer trying to manipulate Arab destiny this book has an assortment of principal players, only one of whom managed to become so famous. As to why such acclaim elevated one renegade Briton and his feat of creating a guerrilla Bedouin army, Mr. Anderson writes that the short answer may seem anticlimactic. His reason: This was a time when the seed was planted for the Arab world “to define itself less by what it aspires to become than what it is opposed to: colonialism, Zionism, Western imperialism in its many forms.”

Clarity was hard to find, and so, after such wanton loss of life, were victors. But heroes were needed, and here was a shoo-in. According to the book, “Lawrence was able to become ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ because no one was paying much attention.”


That does not make Mr. Anderson’s account a debunking. For those already fascinated by Lawrence’s exploits and familiar with his written accounts of them, Mr. Anderson’s thoughtful, big-picture version only enriches the story it tells. “Lawrence in Arabia” emphasizes the Gordian difficulties facing any strategist from any of the numerous contingents involved either in fighting for Arab freedom from the Ottoman Empire or looking to carve up Arab land once the fighting was over. He illustrates how difficult it was to have any foresight at all, let along to see clearly, and he reserves his greatest interest for players whose imaginations were most fertile. Lawrence was the best and most eloquent of these manipulators, but he was by no means alone.

The book is careful to acknowledge aspects of Lawrence’s skill that are not always done justice. Mr. Anderson is especially illuminating about Lawrence’s purely political gifts: his way of anticipating the fallout from strategic or military maneuvers, his “peculiar skill at polite belligerence,” his no-nonsense powers of description.

Drawing from the vast body of Lawrence’s writing, Mr. Anderson finds this bit of irreverence: “Jerusalem is a dirty town which all Semitic religions have made holy. . In it the united forces of the past are so strong that the city fails to have a present its people, with the rarest exceptions, are characterless as hotel servants, living on the crowd of visitors passing through.”

Beyond having a keen ear for memorable wording, Mr. Anderson has a gift for piecing together the conflicting interests of warring parties. His account of the grisly British debacle at Gallipoli and the bad decisions leading up to it display this book’s analytic powers at their best. He explains why Alexandretta, now called Iskenderun, on the Mediterranean near the Turkish-Syrian border, looked to Lawrence and others like the Ottoman Empire’s most vulnerable point. It describes the 1914 incident in which a British warship, the Doris, managed almost accidentally to expose how weakly defended the area was.

But “throughout history,” he adds, “there have been occasions when a vastly superior military force has managed, against all odds, to snatch defeat from all but certain victory.” Though Lawrence imagined the Syrian and Armenian uprisings that might further undermine Ottoman control of the Alexandretta region, the British looked westward, designating the Dardanelles as the place to send wave after wave of troops. Fully exposed to the enemy as they made their naval landing, they were massacred to no strategic effect at all. Lawrence believed that Britain’s decision had been influenced by the desire of its ally France to keep Syria stable — and lay claim to it after the war.

As “Lawrence in Arabia” lays out Lawrence’s career, and his delicate negotiations to unite the sons of King Hussein to create an Arab revolt against the Turks, it also follows other diplomatic efforts. One of the book’s startling revelations about Curt Prüfer, a German diplomat in Cairo with espionage connections, is that he deployed Minna Weizmann — a seldom-mentioned sister of Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president — as a pro-German spy. Also involved in espionage was Aaron Aaronsohn, a Zionist and agronomist, who worked his way into the good graces of the Ottoman regime.

The book also follows the track of the American William Yale, roaming the region to do the bidding of Standard Oil of New York, known as Socony. He was instrumental in helping the company lay claims in Palestine, “except there was a key detail in all this that Socony saw no reason to trouble the Turks with,” Mr. Anderson writes. Drilling for oil could have helped the Turkish war effort, but Yale’s employers had no intention of doing so until the war was over.

“Lawrence in Arabia” is a fascinating book, the best work of military history in recent memory and an illuminating analysis of issues that still loom large today. It’s a big book in every sense, with a huge amount of terrain to cover. So it is perhaps understandable that Mr. Anderson makes only passing and none too flattering reference to David Lean’s magnificent film about Lawrence.

But readers who know the movie are apt to summon it more than he does. Yes, it was history à la Hollywood, with moments of clear exaggeration. But its effort to depict Lawrence, his military raids, the tribal leaders with whom he dealt, the inept British military effort and the sly French diplomatic one are all shown by this book to be unusually faithful to the facts. It’s high praise for both the visually grand film and this grandly ambitious book to say that they do have a lot in common.

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A great, readable history of the Arab Bureau and the major and minor players involved.

Of all the people involved in the revolt, Cyril Wilson gets the most attention. Walker also add some color by telling stories of the Arab Bureau’s security precautions (having a goat eat paper on the floor), the member who was able to keep at his golf hobby while in the desert, and how the Bureau kept the Mecca pilgrimage going even as war came to Arabia.

Walker does a great job showing how their work was compl A great, readable history of the Arab Bureau and the major and minor players involved.

Of all the people involved in the revolt, Cyril Wilson gets the most attention. Walker also add some color by telling stories of the Arab Bureau’s security precautions (having a goat eat paper on the floor), the member who was able to keep at his golf hobby while in the desert, and how the Bureau kept the Mecca pilgrimage going even as war came to Arabia.

Walker does a great job showing how their work was complicated by the relations and rivalries between the Arabian tribes, the ignorance and detachment of Entente superiors, the harshness of the terrain, and the imperial designs and rivalries of Britain and France. He does a good job parsing the record, such as Lawrence’s memoirs, which he often questions.

A balanced, well-researched work. . more

Awe inspiring research by the author has produced a work of great importance to those interested in the Arab Revolt that took place during the latter part of the First World War, and gave rise to the legend of &aposLawrence of Arabia&apos.

Lawrence certainly features in the book, as he should, but the author has focused his attention on the whole group of British officers that supported the Revolt, and without whom Lawrence&aposs legend would not have come into existence. Lawrence himself, in &aposThe Seven Pill Awe inspiring research by the author has produced a work of great importance to those interested in the Arab Revolt that took place during the latter part of the First World War, and gave rise to the legend of 'Lawrence of Arabia'.

Lawrence certainly features in the book, as he should, but the author has focused his attention on the whole group of British officers that supported the Revolt, and without whom Lawrence's legend would not have come into existence. Lawrence himself, in 'The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom' declared that any of forty other British participants in the Revolt could have written a similar account. In the event they didn't – and Phillip Walker, set out to do it for them.

Over a period of several years, Walker traced descendants of the other men, and discovered private hoards of letters, diaries, and photographs that documented their ancestor's activities in Arabia, and which had lain hidden and untouched, in many cases, for over ninety years. From out of that mass of material, plus official records, and personal interviews with descendants, emerged a story of great courage, fortitude, and selfless service – masterfully written in a style that puts one at the centre of the British presence in the Hejaz. At the end of the book I was loath to leave Arabia, and the interesting group of characters I had met there.

A remarkable book that brings out of the shadows some equally remarkable men. The ailing but indefatigable Colonel Cyril Wilson, for example, is almost worthy of a statue in Whitehall for his unstinting devotion to duty in the service of his country! I particularly liked the potted biographies of the men, detailing their activities after the War - a very human touch.

Young Lawrence: A Portrait of the Legend as A Young Man

T. E. Lawrence was one of the most charismatic characters of the First World War a young archaeologist who fought with the Arabs and wrote an epic and very personal account of their revolt against the Turks in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Yet this was not the first book to carry that iconic title.

In 1914 the man who would become Lawrence of Arabia burnt the first Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a manuscript in which he described his adventures in the Middle East during the five years before the war.

Anthony Sattin uncovers the story Lawrence wanted to conceal: the truth of his birth, his tortuous relationship with a dominant mother, his deep affection for an Arab boy, the intimate details of the extraordinary journeys he took through the region with which his name is forever connected and the personal reasons that drove him from being a student to becoming an archaeologist and a spy.

Young Lawrence is the first book to focus on the story of T. E. Lawrence in his twenties, before the war, during the period he looked back on as his golden years. Using first-hand sources, museum records and Foreign Office documents, Sattin sets these adventures against the background of corrosive conflicts in Libya and the Balkans. He shows the simmering defiance of Arabs, Armenians and Kurds under Turkish domination, while uncovering the story of an exceptional young man searching for happiness, love and his place in the world until war changed his life forever.

You can read some extracts here:

Anthony has also narrated the full audiobook for Audible, which is available here:

‘I enjoyed Young Lawrence very much . . . while Lawrence is not a boy in Anthony Sattin’s splendid book he clearly prefigures Lawrence of Arabia . . . a bold exploration not only of the Middle East, but of himself’ Michael Korda, author of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

‘Through meticulous research and crackling prose, Sattin charts the youthful passions and influences – and not a few family and personal secrets – that helped create the future Lawrence of Arabia, and done so in an account so well-written that is hard to put down. An absolutely indispensable read for anyone hoping to understand the evolution of one of the most beguiling and romantic figures of the modern age’ Scott Anderson

‘A quirky but rigorous biographical study’ Economist

‘A valuable insight into a fascinating young man before he disappeared into legend’ Scotsman

‘Anthony Sattin proves that the British know how to write a great adventure as well how to have one. This highly readable book never lacks for the big story but it also does not let that history lose the hero’ New York Journal of Books

‘An enjoyable book and a welcome addition to the literature on Lawrence’ Spectator

‘A compelling account of a young man learning to live according to his dreams’ Observer

‘Anthony Sattin has struck gold . . . balancing a lively, novelistic approach with genuine biographical inquiry in a very readable book’ Giles Foden, Condé Nast Traveller

‘Sattin’s own travel writing experience, lends this detailed biography of Lawrence’s early years an immediacy, pace and sense of place that is as enjoyable as it is revelatory’ Traveller

‘Anthony Sattin, an Arabophile himself, is the perfect writer to bring us Lawrence’s early life . . . a gripping, well researched book’ Compass

How Did T. E. Lawrence Become ‘Lawrence of Arabia’? - History

Publishing Info:
Anderson, Scott. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. New York: Doubleday, 2013. 577 pp.

Just three years after the last major Lawrence biography (Michael Korda's Hero) comes this volume. Veteran journalist Scott Anderson further probes the Lawrence enigma, fitting him into the broader wartime canvas. In his view, "Lawrence was able to become Lawrence of Arabia because no one was paying much attention" to this marginal theater of war (3). Anderson's critical view of Lawrence nearly provides a throwback to Aldington-era skepticism.

Scott Anderson is a New York-based journalist and author. As a war correspondent, Anderson covered conflicts ranging from Northern Ireland and Checnya to the Sudan. He's published several nonfiction books, along with novels including Triage and Moonlight Hotel. Anderson discusses his book with NPR here.

The Review:
As the subtitle suggests, Anderson attempts a broader view of World War's Middle Eastern Theater, focusing mainly on the Arab Revolt (though bringing Allenby's Palestinian campaign and the muddled Mesopotamian adventure in where appropriate). For that matter, he's more concerned with the war's diplomatic and political finagling than its military dimensions. In this regard it's more akin to David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace, or James Barr's Setting the Desert on Fire, than a straight biography.

To flesh out his narrative, Anderson compares Lawrence with several contemporaries. These are Aaron Aaronsohn, the agricultural expert-turned-Zionist agent who became an intelligence asset to the British (see also Ronald Florence's Lawrence and Aaronsohn) Curt Prufer, Germany's chief intelligence operative in Turkey and William Yale, a Standard Oil official who became General Allenby's American military attache. Anderson argues that in this military backwater, "these men drew upon a very particular set of personality traits. to both forge their own destiny and alter the course of history" (4).

These individuals are interesting in their own right, and occasionally clarify Lawrence's story. For instance, Anderson uses Prufer's correspondence to demonstrate that Lawrence's nemesis Abd el-Kadr was indeed on Djemal Pasha's payroll (385). Aaronsohn provides a window not only into nascent Zionism, but his contacts with Djemal allow readers to appreciate the actions of Turkey's government. But Anderson treats them superficially they appear irregularly through the narrative, without making strong impressions. By default, Lawrence becomes the central figure.

Anderson's is primarily a disillusioned imperialist. He starts the book with Lawrence refusing the VC from King George V and follows this strand throughout. Lawrence's prewar intelligence work and early years at the Arab Bureau give way to bitter disillusionment. Anderson makes Lawrence's involvement in the Siege of Kut, trying to negotiate the ransom of General Townshend's besieged garrison, a turning point in Lawrence's worldview. Along with his Cairo experiences, Kut taught Lawrence to distrust the "toxic fusion of racism and British notions of military superiority" (170) that shaped British attitudes towards Arab and Turk alike.

Anderson views Lawrence as not only cynical towards his government, but actively siding with the Arabs. Lawrence not only opposes landing troops in Alexandretta and informs Feisal of Sykes-Picot but, in Anderson's view, encourages his March 1918 negotiations with Mehmet Djemal. Apparently Lawrence saw the negotiations "as a powerful potential weapon to use against his government" (447). Anderson views this as a reaction to Mark Sykes' devious diplomacy ("[he] had a very hard time keeping his facts, even his own beliefs, straight" (155)) and French Colonel Bremond's brusque arrogance. This tallies also with Lawrence's habit of cavalierly disregarding orders.

Post-Aqaba, Lawrence relished throwing his weight around, spiting not only officers like Cyril Wilson he disliked but "pushing aside" his friend Stewart Newcombe (352). Anderson thoroughly plumbs Lawrence's relationship with Emir Faisal: he respects the chieftain's "unshaken ambition" (246) but grows wary at his "propensity for vacillation" (289). Where Korda recounts Lawrence's postwar meetings with Feisal as happy occasions, Anderson shows them as "awkward gatherings" (504). Not an overt "debunking" work, it's surely the most cynical treatment of Lawrence since Michael Asher.

Anderson isn't entirely convincing. Lawrence's disgust at Allied perfidy is evident throughout his writings it's hard to credit authors like Suleiman Mousa and Phillip Knightley who strenuously argue him a heartless imperialist. But extreme suppositions that Lawrence engendered Feisal's negotiations with the Turks build on decidedly slender foundations. Anderson isn't wrong to that Lawrence's efforts during the Arab Revolt, and later at Versailles, left him drained and ashamed. Yet later, Lawrence felt his efforts at 1922's Cairo Conference squared his loyalty to Britain and the Arabs adequately.

Nor does Anderson particularly shine elsewhere. His accounts of Lawrence's military actions read fairly, but without particular insight or originality. He's less interested in Lawrence's tactics than his growing "hatred for the enemy" which culminates in Tafas (416). He dismisses Seven Pillars of Wisdom as a "fabulously uneven book" (504). Lawrence's later life, in Anderson's view, is "decidedly prosaic" (504) and hence largely ignored. The Lawrence lauded for his "genius for friendship," able to charm both aristocrats and army privates, appears nowhere in these pages. Any hints of insouciant humor drown beneath waves of bitterness.

Anderson sniffs at "arcane squabbles between those seeking to tarnish his reputation and those seeking to defend it" (3), yet can't help examining a few himself. He confirms Barr's assertion that the northern ride during the Aqaba expedition is beyond dispute (322). He reasonably questions Lawrence's account of Deraa but concludes that "something happened in Deraa" (401). His "something" is a recapitulation of Richard Aldington's theory that Lawrence willingly submitted to the Bey's advances (402).

One shouldn't begrudge Scott Anderson for a well-written book. History buffs can learn a good deal, and even jaded Lawrence snobs may find it an engaging read. It's just a shame that Anderson offers little substantive insight into his central figure.

Watch the video: Top 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Lawrence Of Arabia (January 2022).