Queen of the Desert | Chicago Reader

Queen of the Desert

Rated PG-13 128 minutes 2015

Nicole Kidman goes all Lawrence of Arabia for this slow-moving biopic of Gertrude Bell, the British adventurer and archaeologist who became a key diplomatic figure in the Middle East during and after World War I. Bell was an extraordinary figure, tailor-made for a dazzling presence like Kidman, but Werner Herzog, directing his own script, unwisely structures Bell's story around her intimate relationships with men, all played by handsome actors who wilt in Kidman's high-watt glare: James Franco, toothy and gurgling as a besotted secretary at the British embassy in Tehran; Damian Lewis, steel-jawed and resolute as a married officer who sweeps Bell off her feet; and Robert Pattinson, suave and devil-may-care as T.E. Lawrence (really they're just good friends). The episodic narrative never accumulates any momentum; one wonders how much better Herzog might have fared with a Lincoln-style focus on a critical moment in Bell's career, such as the Cairo Conference of 1921, at which she helped negotiate the modern state of Iraq.

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