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Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 Britishmarker epic film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. It was directed by David Lean and produced by Austrian Sam Spiegel (through his British company, Horizon Pictures), from a script by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. (Lean and Spiegel had recently completed the acclaimed film The Bridge on the River Kwaimarker.) The film stars Peter O'Toole in the title role. It is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential films in the history of cinema. The dramatic score by Maurice Jarre and the Super Panavision 70 cinematography by Freddie Young are also highly acclaimed.

The film depicts Lawrence's experiences in Arabia during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqabamarker and Damascusmarker and his involvement in the Arab National Council. Its themes include Lawrence's emotional struggles with violence in war (especially the conflicts between Arab tribes and the slaughter of the Turkish army), his personal identity, and his divided allegiance between his native Britainmarker and its army, and his newfound comrades within the Arabian desert tribes.


Act I

The film opens in 1935 with Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) as a civilian gearing up for a ride in his motorcycle at his home Clouds Hillmarker. While riding his motorbike down a narrow English country lane, Lawrence is killed when he tries to avoid a collision with two boys who are cycling on the wrong side of the road. At his memorial service at St Paul's Cathedralmarker, reporters try to gain insights into this remarkable, but enigmatic, man from people who knew him, with little success.

The film then flashes back to Cairomarker during World War I, where Lawrence is a misfit British Army lieutenant, notable only for his insolence and knowledge of the Bedouin. Over the objections of a sceptical General Murray (Donald Wolfit), he is sent by Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains) of the Arab Bureau to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal (Alec Guinness) in his revolt against the Turks.

On the journey, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) for drinking from a well without permission. Near Faisal's camp, he encounters his superior officer, Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle), who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment, and then leave. Lawrence promptly ignores Brighton's commands when he meets Faisal. His knowledge and outspokenness pique the prince's interest.

Brighton advises the Arab leader to retreat to Yenbomarker after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes an alternative, a daring attack on Aqabamarker. If taken, the town would provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies for the rebellion, but it is strongly defended against a naval assault by heavy artillery. However, Lawrence proposes a surprise attack on the lightly-defended landward side. He convinces Faisal to provide fifty men on camels, led by Sherif Ali. As they prepare to leave, two teenage orphan boys, Daud (John Dimech) and Farraj (Michel Ray), attach themselves to Lawrence as his servants. They cross the Nefud Desert, considered impassable even by the Bedouins, travelling day and night on the last stage to reach water. One of the men, Gasim (I. S. Johar), succumbs to fatigue and falls off his camel unnoticed during the night. The rest make it to an oasis, but Lawrence turns back for the lost man alone, risking his own life. When he rescues Gasim, the Bedouins are very impressed, even the formerly sceptical Sherif Ali.

Lawrence meets with Auda abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn), the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe. Lawrence persuades Auda to turn against the Turks by claiming there is gold in Aqaba. Lawrence's plans are almost derailed when one of Ali's men kills one of Auda's because of a blood feud. Since no Howeitat can retaliate without angering Ali's followers and sparking further bloodshed, Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. He is stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, the man he had rescued earlier, but he shoots him regardless. The next morning, the intact alliance overruns the Turkish garrison in Aqaba. Auda is dismayed that there is no gold, only paper money, but Lawrence appeases him by promising to get him gold from the British.

Lawrence heads to Cairo to inform Dryden and the new commanding general, General Allenby (Jack Hawkins), of his victory. During the crossing of the Sinai Desert, Daud dies when he stumbles into quicksand. Lawrence is promoted two ranks to major and given arms and money to support the Arabs. Lawrence initially refuses the promotion, revealing that he is deeply disturbed that he enjoyed executing Gasim, but the general brushes his qualms aside and Lawrence comes around. He asks Allenby whether the Arabs' suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia after the Turks are driven out have any basis; the general says at first that he's not a politician, then when pressed, that they don't.

Act II

Lawrence launches a guerrilla war, blowing up trains on the Hejaz Railway and harassing the Turks at every turn. American war correspondent Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy) makes him world famous by publicising his exploits. With winter approaching, many of the tribesmen go home for the year, leaving fewer and fewer die-hard supporters to continue fighting. On one raid, Farraj is badly injured when the detonator he is carrying blows up prematurely. Unwilling to leave him for the Turks to torture, Lawrence is forced to shoot him before fleeing.

Down to twenty men, Lawrence scouts the enemy-held city of Daraamarker with Ali, but is taken, along with several Arab residents, to the Turkish Bey (José Ferrer). For striking the Bey after he is lasciviously stripped, ogled, and prodded, Lawrence is severely beaten and then thrown out into the street. Though the matter is controversial, historians and biographers (including Lawrence's authorised biographer, Jeremy Wilson) say that the rape implied by Seven Pillars of Wisdom and other sources is also implied in the film.

In Jerusalemmarker, Allenby urges him to go back to the fighting to support his "big push" on Damascusmarker, but Lawrence is a changed, tormented man and, at first, does not want to return. Finally, Lawrence relents and recruits an army, including many killers and cutthroats motivated by money, rather than the Arab cause. They come upon a column of retreating Turkish soldiers, who have just slaughtered the villagers of Tafas. One of Lawrence's men is from the village and, after seeing the carnage, he demands, "No prisoners!" When Lawrence hesitates, the man charges the Turks by himself and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man's cry, resulting in a massacre in which Lawrence himself participates with relish. His men then enter Damascus before Allenby's.

The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but they are desert tribesmen, ill-suited for such a task. Unable to maintain the electricity, telephones, and waterworks, and bickering constantly with each other, they soon abandon most of Damascus to the British. Lawrence is promoted to colonel and then immediately ordered home, his usefulness at an end to the real victors. The negotiations are left to Faisal and the British and French diplomats. A dejected Lawrence is driven away in a staff car.


  • Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence. Albert Finney, at the time a virtual unknown, was Lean's first choice to play Lawrence, but Finney was not sure the film would be a success and turned it down. Marlon Brando was also offered the part, and Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were briefly considered, before O'Toole was cast. Alec Guinness had previously played Lawrence in the play Ross, and was briefly considered for the part, but David Lean and Sam Spiegel thought him too old. Lean had seen O'Toole in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England and was bowled over by his screen test, proclaiming "This is Lawrence!" Spiegel disliked O'Toole, having worked with him on Suddenly, Last Summer (where O'Toole was an understudy for Montgomery Clift and considered to take over his part after Clift's alcoholism caused problems), but acceded to Lean's demands after Finney and Brando dropped out. Pictures of Lawrence suggest also that O'Toole carried some resemblance to him, in spite of their considerable height difference. O'Toole's looks prompted a different reaction from Noël Coward, who after seeing the première of the film famously quipped "If you had been any prettier, the film would have been called Florence of Arabia".

  • Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal. Faisal was originally to be portrayed by Laurence Olivier; Guinness, who performed in other David Lean films, 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 he had with Omar Sharif.
  • Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi. Quinn got very much into his role; he spent hours applying his own makeup, using a photograph of the real Auda to make himself look as much like him as he could. One anecdote has Quinn arriving on-set for the first time in full costume, whereupon Lean, mistaking him for a native, asked his assistant to ring Quinn and notify him that they were replacing him with the new arrival.
  • Jack Hawkins as General Allenby. Sam Spiegel pushed Lean to cast Cary Grant or Laurence Olivier (who was engaged at the Chichester Festival Theatremarker, and declined). Lean, however, convinced him to choose Hawkins due to his work for them on The Bridge on the River Kwai. Hawkins shaved his head for the role and reportedly clashed with David Lean several times during filming. Alec 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, much to Lean's dismay.
  • Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish. The role was offered to many actors before Omar 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 due to the brown contact lenses he would have had to wear. Maurice Ronet and Dilip Kumar were also considered. Sharif, who was already a major star in the Middle East, was originally cast as Lawrence's guide Tafas, but when the above actors proved unsuitable, Sharif was shifted to the part of Ali.
  • José Ferrer as the Turkish Bey. Ferrer was initially unsatisfied with the small size of his part, and accepted the role only on the condition of being paid $25,000 (more than O'Toole and Sharif combined) plus a factory-made Porsche. However, he afterwards considered this his best film performance, saying in an interview: "If I was to be judged by any one film performance, it would be my five minutes in Lawrence." Peter O'Toole once said that he learned more about screen acting from Ferrer than he could in any acting class.
  • Anthony Quayle as Colonel Harry Brighton. Quayle, a veteran of military roles, was cast after Jack Hawkins, the original choice, was shifted to the part of Allenby. Quayle and Lean argued over how to portray the character, with Lean feeling Brighton to be an honourable character, while Quayle thought him an idiot.
  • Claude Rains as Mr Dryden. Rains had previously worked with Lean on The Passionate Friends. Lean considered Rains one of his favourite actors and was happy to work with him again.
  • Arthur Kennedy as Jackson Bentley. In the early days of the production, when the Bentley (Thomas) 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, thus being turned down by Spiegel. Later, Edmond O'Brien was cast in the part. O'Brien filmed the Jerusalem scene, and (according to Omar Sharif) Bentley's political discussion with Ali, but he became ill due to a heart attack on location and had to be replaced at the last moment by Kennedy, who was recommended to Lean by Anthony Quinn.
  • Donald Wolfit as General Murray. Wolfit was one of Peter O'Toole's mentors.
  • Michel Ray as Farraj. At the time, Ray was an up-and-coming Anglo-Brazilian actor, who had previously appeared in several films, including Irving Rapper's The Brave One and Anthony Mann's The Tin Star. This however would be one of his last roles. Ray, under the name Michel de Carvalho, later became a prominent British businessman and, through his wife, Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, is the majority shareholder in the Heineken brewing company, worth over £8,000,000,000 sterling as of 2002.
  • I.S. Johar as Gasim. Johar was a well-known Bollywood actor who occasionally appeared in international productions.
  • Zia Mohyeddin as Tafas. Mohyeddin was one of Pakistan's best-known actors, and launched a successful stage career in London after this film's success. Most famously, he played Dr Aziz in the stage and TV adaptation of A Passage to India in the late 1960s.
  • Gamil Ratib as Majid. Ratib was a veteran Egyptian actor. His English was not considered good enough, so he was dubbed by Robert Rietti in the final film.
  • John Dimech as Daud. Dimech was a waiter from Malta. His only prior film appearance was in 1959's Killers of Kilimanjaro.
  • Hugh Miller as the RAMC colonel. Miller worked on several of Lean's films as a dialogue coach, and was one of several members of the film crew to be given bit parts (see below).
  • Fernando Sancho as the Turkish sergeant. A well-known Spanish actor (best remembered for his roles in many spaghetti Westerns), Sancho became close friends with Lean during filming.
  • Stuart Saunders as the regimental sergeant major
  • Jack Gwillim as the club secretary. A well-known English actor often playing supporting roles in British war films, Gwillim was recommended to Lean for the film by close friend Anthony Quayle.
  • Kenneth Fortescue as Allenby's aide
  • Harry Fowler as Corporal Potter
  • Howard Marion-Crawford as the medical officer. Marion-Crawford was cast at the last possible minute, during the filming of the "Damascus" scenes in Seville.
  • John Ruddock as Elder Harith. Ruddock was a noted Shakespearean actor.
  • Norman Rossington as Corporal Jenkins
  • Jack Hedley as a reporter
  • Henry Oscar as Silliam, Faisal's servant. Oscar frequently played ethnic parts, including the Sudanese doctor in The Four Feathers (1939).
  • Peter Burton as a Damascus Sheik

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). David Lean can be heard as the voice of the motorcycle driver asking Lawrence "Who are you?" at the Suez Canal.

It has been noted that the film is unusual in that it had no women in credited speaking roles.

Real characters

Fictional and fictionalised characters

Sherif Ali — A combination of numerous Arab leaders, particularly Sharif Nassir — Faisal's cousin — who led the Harith forces involved in the attack on Aqabamarker. 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. This character was, however, almost certainly named after Sharif Ali ibn Hussein, a young leader in the Harith tribe, who played a part in the Revolt.

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 Mark Sykes and 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. Stewart 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, though he later escaped. Also, like Brighton, Newcombe was not well-liked by the Arabs, though he remained friends with Lawrence. (It should be noted that in Michael Wilson's original script, he was Colonel Newcombe; the character's name was later 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 Daraamarker was — according to Lawrence himself — General Hajim Bey (in Turkish, Hacim Muhiddin Bey), though he is not named in the film. Though the incident was mentioned in Lawrence's autobiography Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a few historians have conjectured that this event never happened. This is not the view of Jeremy Wilson, The Authorised Biography of T. E. Lawrence (ISBN 0-689-11934-8) or the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning biography A Prince of Our Disorder, John E. Mack, (ISBN 0-316-54232-6).

Jackson Bentley — Based on famed American journalist Lowell Thomas, who helped make Lawrence famous with accounts of his bravery. However, Thomas was at the time a young man 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 Michael Wilson's original script, but Robert Bolt reduced his role significantly for the final script. It should be noted that 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 hold him in contempt.

Tafas — Lawrence's guide to Faisal is based on his actual guide, Sheikh Obeid el-Rashid, of the Hazimi branch of the Beni Salem, whom Lawrence referred to as Tafas several times in Seven Pillars. Tafas and Lawrence did meet Sherif Ali at a well during Lawrence's travels to Faisal, but the encounter was not fatal for either party. (Indeed, this scene would create much controversy amongst Arab viewers.)

Medical Officer — This unnamed officer who confronts Lawrence in Damascus is based on an actual incident in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence's meeting the officer again while in British uniform was, however, an invention of Wilson or Bolt.

Historical accuracy

The historical accuracy of the film, and particularly its portrayal of Lawrence himself, has been called into question by numerous scholars. Most of the film's characters are either real or based on real characters to varying degrees. The events depicted in the film are largely based on accepted historical fact and Lawrence's own writing about events, though they have various degrees of romanticisation.

Some scenes — such as the attack on Aqaba — were heavily fictionalised, while those dealing with the Arab Council were inaccurate, inasmuch as the council remained more or less in power in Syriamarker until Francemarker deposed Faisal in 1920. Little background on the history of the region, the First World War, and the Arab Revolt is provided, probably due to Bolt's increased focus on Lawrence (while Wilson's draft script had a broader, more politicized version of events). The theme (in the second half of the film) that Lawrence's Arab army deserted almost to a man as he moved further north was completely fictional. The film's timeline of the Arab Revolt and World War I, and the geography of the Hejaz region, are frequently questionable. For instance, Bentley interviews Faisal in late 1917, after the fall of Aqaba, saying the United Statesmarker has not yet entered the war; yet America had been in the war for several months by that point in time. Further, Lawrence's involvement in the Arab Revolt prior to the attack on Aqaba — such as his involvement in the seizures of Yenbomarker and Wejh — is completely excised. The rescue and execution of Gasim is based on two separate incidents which were conflated together for dramatic reasons.

Representation of Lawrence

Many complaints about the film's accuracy, however, centre on the characterisation of Lawrence himself. The perceived problems with the portrayal of Lawrence begin with the differences in his physical appearance: 6-foot 2-inch (1.87 m) Peter O'Toole was almost nine inches (22.86 cm) taller than the real Lawrence. His behaviour, however, has caused much more debate.

The screenwriters depict Lawrence as an egotist. The degree to which Lawrence sought or shunned attention, for example his use after the war of various assumed names, is a matter of debate. Even during the war, Lowell Thomas wrote in With Lawrence in Arabia that he could only take pictures of him by tricking him (though he did later agree to pose for several pictures for Thomas's stage show). Thomas's famous comment that Lawrence "had a genius for backing into the limelight" referred to the fact that his extraordinary actions prevented him from being as private as he would have liked. Others disagree, pointing to Lawrence's own writings in Seven Pillars of Wisdom to support the argument that he was egotistical.

Lawrence's sexual orientation remains a controversial topic amongst historians; though Bolt's primary source was ostensibly Seven Pillars, the film's portrayal seems informed by Richard Aldington's then-recent Biographical Inquiry (1955), which posited among other things that Lawrence was a homosexual. The film features Lawrence's alleged sadomasochism as a major part of his character (for instance, his "match trick" in Cairo, squeezing a rock in the desert after his meeting with Feisal, his "enjoyment" of killing Gasim); while Lawrence almost certainly engaged in flagellation and like activities after the Deraa incident, there is no biographical evidence he was a masochist prior to that incident. The movie's depiction of Lawrence as an active participant in the Tafas Massacre was disputed at the time by historians, including Lawrence's biographer Basil Liddell Hart, but most current biographers accept the film's portrayal of the massacre as reasonably accurate.

Although the movie does show that Lawrence can speak/read Arabic, has read the Quran and is reasonably knowledgable about the region, it does not mention his previous experience in the Middle East; namely, his archaeological travels from 1911-1914 in Syria and Arabia, and his espionage work, including a pre-war topographical survey of the Sinai Peninsula and his attempts to negotiate the release of British prisoners at Kut in Mesopotamia in 1916.

Furthermore, contrary to the film, Lawrence was aware of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, but he hoped that the Arabs' contribution to the Allied victory would convince the Allies to grant the Arabs their independence. Lawrence was, as the film suggests, torn between loyalty to the British and his promises to the Arabs, but by omitting his knowledge of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the film removes the catalyst for this conflict.

Representation of other characters

The film's portrayal of General Allenby as a cynical, manipulative superior is not entirely accurate either. Allenby and Lawrence respected and liked each other; Lawrence once said of Allenby that he was "an admiration of mine", and later that "[he was] physically large and confident, and morally so great that the comprehension of our littleness came slow to him". Allenby, for his part, remarked upon Lawrence's death that "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," (in contrast to the fictional Allenby's words at Lawrence's funeral in the film) and spoke highly of him on numerous other occasions. It seems likely that this characterisation of Allenby is in large part due to the screenwriters' anti-war sentiments. While Allenby admittedly did manipulate Lawrence during the war, their relationship lasted for years after its end, indicating that, in real-life, they were friendly, if not terribly close. The Allenby family was particularly upset by the Damascus scenes, where Allenby coldly allows the town to fall into chaos as the Arab Council collapses.

Similarly, General Murray, though initially sceptical of the Arab Revolt's potential, 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 towards Lawrence in the film is in fact the opposite of Murray's real feelings. (For his part though, Lawrence seemed not to hold Murray in any high regard.)

The depiction of Auda abu Tayi as a man only interested in loot and money is also at odds with the historical record. While Auda did at first join the Arab Revolt for monetary reasons, he quickly became a steadfast supporter of Arab independence and only abandoned the cause after the collapse of the Arab government in Damascus. He was present with Lawrence from the beginning of the Aqabamarker expedition, and in fact helped plan it along with Prince Faisal.

Faisal, far from being the middle-aged man depicted, was in reality in his early thirties at the time of the revolt. While Faisal was considered by Lawrence to be a wise and insightful man, he also had a nasty sense of humour (often involving practical jokes) which is not evident in the film. The two men also had a much closer relationship than the film implies.

A particularly telling fact of the film's inaccuracies is the reaction of those who knew Lawrence and the other characters. The most vehement critic of the film's inaccuracy was Professor A.W. Lawrence, T.E.'s younger brother and literary executor, who had given the rights to Seven Pillars of Wisdom to Sam Spiegel for £25,000. Lawrence went on a campaign in the US and Britain denouncing the film, famously saying that "I should not have recognised my own brother". Lowell Thomas was also critical of the portrayal of Lawrence and most of the film's characters, feeling that the train attack scenes were the only reasonably accurate aspect of the film.

The criticisms were not restricted to Lawrence. The Allenby family lodged a formal complaint against Columbia about the portrayal of their ancestor. Descendants of Auda abu Tayi and the real Sherif Ali (despite the fact that the film's Ali was fictional) went further, actively suing Columbia due to the portrayal of their ancestors. The Auda case went on for almost ten years before it was finally dropped.

Jeremy Wilson, among others, has noted that the film has "undoubtedly influenced the perceptions of some subsequent biographers" (for instance, in the assumption that the film's Ali was the real Sherif Ali, rather than a composite character, and the highlighting of the Deraa incident), and thus its historical inaccuracies are, in his view, more troublesome than mere dramatic license.



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 as Lawrence, but had to pull out due to financial difficulties. Lean himself had been approached to direct a 1952 version for the Rank Organisation, but the project fell through. Besides previous attempts, Terence Rattigan was developing his play Ross – centred primarily on Lawrence's alleged homosexuality – simultaneous to pre-production of this film. (Sam Spiegel grew furious and unsuccessfully attempted to have the play suppressed, furore at which helped to gain publicity for the film. ) When Lawrence of Arabia was first announced, Lawrence's biographer Lowell Thomas offered producer Spiegel and screenwriters Bolt and Wilson a large amount of research material he had produced on Lawrence during and after his time with him in the Arab Revolt. Spiegel rejected the offer.

Michael Wilson wrote the original draft of the screenplay. However, David Lean was dissatisfied with Wilson's work, primarily because his treatment focused primarily on the historical and political aspects of the Arab Revolt. Lean hired Robert Bolt to re-write the script in order to make it a character study of Lawrence himself. While many (if not most) of the characters and scenes are Wilson's invention, virtually all of the dialogue in the finished film was written by Bolt.

Lean reportedly watched John Ford's film The Searchers (1956) to help him develop ideas as to how to shoot the film. Several scenes in the movie directly recall Ford's film, most notably Ali's entrance at the well and the composition of many of the desert scenes, most notably the exit from Wadi Rummarker. Lean biographer Kevin Brownlow even notes the physical similarity between Rumm and Ford's Monument Valley. The film's plot structure also bears similarity to Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941), particularly the opening scenes with Lawrence's death and the reporter inquiring notables at Lawrence's funeral.


The film was made by Horizon Pictures and Columbia Pictures. Shooting began on 15 May 1961 and ended on 20 October 1962.

The desert scenes were shot in Jordanmarker and Moroccomarker, as well as Almeríamarker and Doñanamarker in Spainmarker. The film 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. During the production of the film, in fact, Hussein met and married Toni Gardner, who was working as a switchboard operator in Aqaba. One of the film's technical advisors/horse wranglers in Jordan was a descendant of Auda abu Tayi. The only tension occurred when local Jordanian officials learned that English actor Henry Oscar, who did not speak Arabic, would be filmed reciting the Qur'an; permission was granted only on condition that an imam be present to ensure that there were no misquotations.

In Jordan, Lean planned to film in, among other places, the real Aqaba and the archaeological site at Petramarker, which Lawrence had been fond of as a place of study. However, the production had to be moved to Spain, much to Lean's regret, due to cost and outbreaks of illness among the cast and crew before these scenes could be shot. The attack on Aqaba (one of the more stirring and memorable scenes in the movie with a spectacular pan shot of dust rising up from behind the charging Arabs while Turkish cannons are aimed harmlessly out to sea) was reconstructed in a dried river bed in southern Spain; it consisted of over 300 buildings and was meticulously based on the town's appearance in 1917. The execution of Gasim and the train attacks were filmed in the Almeríamarker region, with the former's filming being delayed because of a flash flood. The city of Sevillemarker was also used to represent Cairomarker and Jerusalemmarker, with the appearance of the Alcázar of Sevillemarker and the Plaza de España. All of the film's 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 Ouarzazatemarker, Morocco, with Moroccan army troops substituting for the Turkish army; however, Lean was unable to film as much as he wanted because the soldiers were uncooperative and impatient. One of the second-unit directors for the Morocco scenes was André de Toth, who suggested a shot wherein bags of blood would be machine-gunned, spraying the screen with blood. Assistant director Nicolas Roeg approached Lean with this idea, but Lean found it disgusting. De Toth subsequently left the project.

The film's production was frequently delayed because, unusually, the film started shooting without a finished script. After Wilson quit early in the production, Bolt took over, with playwright Beverley Cross working on the script in the interim (although none of his 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 Bolt to sign a recognizance of good behaviour for him to be released from jail and continue working on the script.

Camels caused several problems on set. O'Toole was not used to riding camels and found the saddle to be uncomfortable. While in Ammanmarker 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 Bedouins nicknamed O'Toole " 'Ab al-'Isfanjah " ( ), meaning "Father of the Sponge". The idea spread and to this day, many Bedouins add foam rubber to their saddles.

Later, during the filming of the Aqaba scene, O'Toole was nearly killed when he fell from his camel, but fortunately, it stood over him, preventing the horses of the extras from trampling him. (A very similar mishap befell the real Lawrence at the Battle of Abu El Lissal in 1917.) In another mishap, O'Toole seriously injured his hand during filming by punching through the window of a caravan while drunk. A brace or bandage can be seen on his left thumb during the first train attack scene, presumably due to this incident.

Ironically, Jordan (among many other Arab countries) would ban the film for what they felt to be a disrespectful portrayal of Arab culture. Egypt (Omar Sharif's home country) was the only Arab country 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.


The score was composed by Maurice Jarre, little known at the time, and only selected after both William Walton and Malcolm Arnold had proved unavailable. Jarre was given just six weeks to compose two hours of orchestral music for Lawrence. The score was performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Although Sir Adrian Boult is credited as the conductor of the score in the film's credits, he was unable to 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 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 theme song for Lean's previous film, The Bridge on the River Kwaimarker.


The film premiered in London on 10 December 1962 and was released in the United States on 16 December 1962.

The original release ran for 222 minutes (plus overture, intermission, and exit music). A later theatrical re-release ran for 202 minutes; an even shorter cut of 187 minutes briefly surfaced in the 1970s. The first round of cuts was made at the direction and even insistence of David Lean, to assuage criticisms of the film's length and increase the number of showings per day; however, during the 1989 restoration, he would later pass blame for the cuts onto then-deceased producer Sam Spiegel.

The film was screened out of competition at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.

Restoration/Director's cut

The current "restored version", undertaken by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz (under the supervision of director David Lean), was released in 1989 with a 216-minute length (plus overture, intermission, and exit music).

Most of the cut scenes were dialogue sequences, particularly those involving General Allenby and his staff. Two whole scenes—Brighton's briefing of Allenby in Jerusalem before the Daraa scene and the British staff meeting in the field tent—were completely excised, and the former has still not been entirely restored. Much of the missing dialogue involves Lawrence's writing of poetry and verse, alluded to by Allenby in particular, saying "the last poetry general we had was Wellington". The opening of Act II, where Faisal is interviewed by Bentley, and the later scene, in Jerusalem where Allenby convinces Lawrence not to resign, existed in only fragmented form; they were restored to the 1989 re-release. Some of the more graphic shots of the Tafas massacre scene—the lengthy panning shot of the corpses in Tafas, and Lawrence shooting a surrendering Turkish soldier—were also restored. Most of the still-missing footage is of minimal import, supplementing existing scenes. One scene is an extended version of the Daraa rape sequence, which makes Lawrence's punishment in that scene more overt. Other scripted scenes exist, including a conversation between Auda and Lawrence immediately after the fall of Aqabamarker, a brief scene of Turkish officers noting the extent of Lawrence's campaign, and the battle of Petramarker (later reworked into the first train attack), but these scenes were probably not filmed. The actors still living at the time of the re-release dubbed their own dialogue, though Jack Hawkins's dialogue had to be dubbed by Charles Gray (who had already done Hawkins' voice for several films after the former developed throat cancer in the late 1960s). A full list of cuts can be found at the Internet Movie Database. Reasons for the cuts of various scenes can be found in Lean's notes to Sam Spiegel, Robert Bolt, and Anne V. Coates. The film runs 216 minutes in the most recent director's cut available on DVD.

High definition

The HD premiere was telecast on HDNet on 10 February 2008. Sony remastered the film into HD. In its high definition version, the film is 216 minutes. Sony lists it at 227 minutes.


Upon its release, Lawrence was a huge critical and financial success and it remains popular among viewers and critics alike. However, some critics — notably Bosley Crowther and Andrew Sarris — have criticized the film for an indefinite portrayal of Lawrence and lack of depth. The striking visuals, dramatic music, literate screenplay and superb performance by Peter O'Toole have all been common points of acclaim and the film as a whole is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. Its visual style has influenced many directors including George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg — who called the film a "miracle."

The film is regarded as a masterpiece of world cinema and is ranked highly on many lists of the best films ever made. The American Film Institute ranked the film 5th in its original and 7th in its updated list of the greatest films and first in its list of the greatest films of the "epic" genre. In 1991 this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congressmarker and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Also in 1991, Sir David Lean authorized a book on the creation of the film, published by Doubleday, NY, in 1992 as Lawrence of Arabia: the 30th Anniversary Pictorial History, researched and written by L. Robert Morris and Lawrence Raskin. In 1999 the film placed third in a BFI poll of the best British films and in 2004 the magazine Total Film named it the eighth greatest British film of all time. It has also ranked in the top ten films of all time in a Sight and Sound directors poll. Additionally, O'Toole's performance has also often been considered one of the greatest of all time, topping lists made by both Entertainment Weekly and Premiere.

Awards and honours

Academy Awards

The film was nominated for ten Oscars at the 35th Academy Awards, and won seven, including Best Picture.

Lawrence of Arabia won seven Academy Awards:

It was nominated for three more:

BAFTA Awards

Lawrence of Arabia won four BAFTA Awards:

It was also nominated for:

Golden Globe Awards

Lawrence of Arabia won five Golden Globe Awards: It was also nominated for:

Other awards

Directors Guild of America
David di Donatello Awards
  • Best Foreign Film — Sam Spiegel
British Society of Cinematographers
  • Best Cinematography Award — Freddie Young
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists
  • Best Director Foreign Film — David Lean
Kinema Junpo Awards
  • Best Foreign Language Film — David Lean
National Board of Review
  • Best Director — David Lean
Writers' Guild of Great Britain

American Film Institute recognition


The use of the locations in Almeríamarker, Spain for the train sequences and others made that region popular with international film makers. Most famously, it became the setting of virtually all of the Spaghetti Westerns of the '60s and '70s, specifically those of Sergio Leone. (The oasis set from Lawrence briefly appears in Leone's For a Few Dollars More (1965).) Many of the sets used or built for the film were re-used in later movies, including John Milius's The Wind and the Lion (1975), which used several of the same palaces in Sevillemarker and the Aqaba set as the setting for its climactic battle, while the Plaza de España appears in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), as the Theed Palace.

The chorus in the main music theme is identical to the one used in the 2004 film Troy in which Peter O'Toole also appears.

The main musical title of the film was used in the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) in the scene where Roger Moore and Barbara Bach's characters have to wander through the desert after their van breaks down. This was done as a joke by one of the editors who liked to play music from the film during the daily rushes.

The main musical title of the film was also used in the movie Spaceballs when the Winnebago crashes on the sand planet and the crew is forced to walk the desert.

Film director Steven Spielberg considers this his favorite movie of all time, and the one which convinced him to become a film maker. Screenwriter William Monahan, who scripted Kingdom of Heaven and The Departed, among others, is a fan of Robert Bolt and has stated on numerous occasions that viewing Lawrence is what inspired him to be a screenwriter.


In 1990, a made-for-television film, A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia, was produced as a sequel to the film. It featured Ralph Fiennes as Lawrence and Alexander Siddig as Prince Faisal. The movie dealt primarily with the attempts of Lawrence and Faisal to secure independence for Arabia during the 1919 Versailles Conference following the end of World War I. The movie was generally well-received and deals more with the political ramifications of Lawrence's efforts in the Middle East.

See also


External links

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