Lawrence of Arabia (film)

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Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia Collectors Edition.jpg
2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD cover
Directed byDavid Lean
Produced bySam Spiegel
Screenplay byRobert Bolt
Michael Wilson
StarringPeter O'Toole
Alec Guinness
Anthony Quinn
Jack Hawkins
Omar Sharif
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyF.A. Young
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 10 December 1962 (1962-12-10)
Running time222 minutes (Original release)
228 minutes[1] (1989 restoration)
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$15 million
Box office$70 million
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Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia Collectors Edition.jpg
2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD cover
Directed byDavid Lean
Produced bySam Spiegel
Screenplay byRobert Bolt
Michael Wilson
StarringPeter O'Toole
Alec Guinness
Anthony Quinn
Jack Hawkins
Omar Sharif
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyF.A. Young
Edited byAnne V. Coates
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release dates
  • 10 December 1962 (1962-12-10)
Running time222 minutes (Original release)
228 minutes[1] (1989 restoration)
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$15 million
Box office$70 million

Lawrence of Arabia is a 1962 British epic biographical adventure drama film based on the life of T. E. Lawrence. It was directed by David Lean and produced by Sam Spiegel through his British company, Horizon Pictures, with the screenplay by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson. 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.[2] The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won seven in total including Best Director, Best Sound Editing, and Best Picture.

The film depicts Lawrence's experiences in the Arabian Peninsula during World War I, in particular his attacks on Aqaba and Damascus and his involvement in the Arab National Council. Its themes include Lawrence's emotional struggles with the personal violence inherent in war, his own identity, and his divided allegiance between his native Britain and its army and his newfound comrades within the Arabian desert tribes.

Plot summary[edit]

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

Part I[edit]

In 1935, T. E. Lawrence is killed in a motorcycle accident. At his memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral, a reporter tries to gain insights into this remarkable, enigmatic man from those who knew him, with little success.

During the First World War, Lawrence is a misfit British Army lieutenant stationed in Cairo, notable for his insolence and knowledge. Over the objections of General Murray, he is sent by Mr. Dryden of the Arab Bureau to assess the prospects of British ally Prince Faisal in his revolt against the Turks.

On the journey, his Bedouin guide is killed by Sherif Ali for drinking from a well without permission. Lawrence later meets Colonel Brighton, who orders him to keep quiet, make his assessment of Faisal's intentions, and leave. Lawrence promptly ignores Brighton's commands when he meets Faisal. His knowledge, attitude and outspokenness pique the Prince's interest.

Brighton advises Faisal to retreat to Yenbo after a major defeat, but Lawrence proposes a daring surprise attack on Aqaba which, if successful, would provide a port from which the British could offload much-needed supplies. While strongly fortified against a naval assault, the town is lightly defended on the landward side. He convinces Faisal to provide fifty men, led by a sceptical Sherif Ali. Two teenage orphans, Daud and Farraj, 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. 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 and against all odds brings him back. Sherif Ali, won over, burns Lawrence's British uniform and gives him Arab robes to wear.

Lawrence persuades Auda abu Tayi, the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, to turn against the Turks. Lawrence's plan is almost derailed when one of Ali's men kills one of Auda's because of a blood feud. Since Howeitat retaliation would shatter the fragile alliance, Lawrence declares that he will execute the murderer himself. Stunned to discover that the culprit is Gasim, he shoots him anyway. The next morning, the intact alliance overruns the Turkish garrison.

Lawrence heads to Cairo to inform Dryden and the new commander, General Allenby, of his victory. During the crossing of the Sinai Desert, Daud dies when he stumbles into quicksand. Lawrence is promoted to major and given arms and money to support the Arabs. He is deeply disturbed, confessing that he enjoyed executing Gasim, but Allenby brushes aside his qualms. He asks Allenby whether there is any basis for the Arabs' suspicions that the British have designs on Arabia. Pressed, the general states they have no such designs.

Part II[edit]

Lawrence launches a guerrilla war, blowing up trains and harassing the Turks at every turn. American war correspondent Jackson Bentley publicises his exploits, making him world famous. On one raid, Farraj is badly injured. Unwilling to leave him to be tortured, Lawrence is forced to shoot him before fleeing.

When Lawrence scouts the enemy-held city of Daraa with Ali, he is taken, along with several Arab residents, to the Turkish Bey. Lawrence is stripped, ogled and prodded. For striking out at the Bey, he is severely flogged, and possibly raped, which is implied. He is then thrown out into the street. It is an emotional turning point for Lawrence. He is so traumatised by the experience that he abandons all of his exploits, going from having proclaimed himself almost a god, to insisting he is merely a man. He attempts to return to the British forces and swear off the desert, but he never fits in there. In Jerusalem, Allenby urges him to support his "big push" on Damascus, but Lawrence is a changed, tormented man, unwilling to return. After Allenby insists that Lawrence has a destiny, he finally relents. Lawrence naively believes that the warriors will come for him rather than for money.

He recruits an army, mainly killers, mercenaries, and cutthroats motivated by money, rather than the Arab cause. They sight a column of retreating Turkish soldiers who have just slaughtered the people of the village of Tafas. One of Lawrence's men from the village demands, "No prisoners!" When Lawrence hesitates, the man charges the Turks alone and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man's cry, resulting in a massacre in which Lawrence himself fully participates, with disturbing relish. Afterward, he realises the horrible consequences of what he has done.

His men then take Damascus ahead of Allenby's forces. The Arabs set up a council to administer the city, but they are desert tribesmen, ill-suited for such a task. The various tribes argue among themselves and in spite of Lawrence's insistence, cannot unite against the British, who in the end take the city back under their bureaucracy. Unable to maintain the utilities and bickering constantly with each other, they soon abandon most of the city to the British. Promoted to colonel and immediately ordered home, his usefulness at an end to both Faisal and the British diplomats, a dejected Lawrence is driven away in a staff car.


Various members of the film's crew portrayed minor characters. First assistant director Roy Stevens played the truck driver who transports Lawrence and Farraj to the Cairo HQ at the end of Act I; the Sergeant who stops Lawrence and Farraj ("Where do you think you're going to, Mustapha?") is construction assistant, Fred Bennett; and screenwriter Robert Bolt has a wordless cameo as one of the officers watching Allenby and Lawrence confer in the courtyard (he is smoking a pipe). Steve Birtles, the film's gaffer, plays the motorcyclist at the Suez Canal; David Lean himself is rumored to be the voice shouting "Who are you?" Finally, continuity girl Barbara Cole appears as one of the nurses in the Damascus hospital scene.

The film is unusual in that it has no women in credited speaking roles.

Nonfictional characters
Fictional characters
Hacim Muhiddin Bey

Historical accuracy[edit]

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 Syria until France 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 politicised 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 farther 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 States has not yet entered the war, yet America had been in the war for several months by that time. Further, Lawrence's involvement in the Arab Revolt prior to the attack on Aqaba—such as his involvement in the seizures of Yenbo and Wejh—is completely excised. The rescue and execution of Gasim is based on two separate incidents, which were conflated for dramatic reasons. The film shows Lawrence representing the Allied cause in the Hejaz almost alone with only one British officer, Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle) there to assist him. In fact, there were numerous British officers such as colonels Cyril Wilson, Stewart Francis Newcombe and Pierce C. Joyce, all of whom arrived before Lawrence began serving in Arabia.[9] In addition, there was a French military mission led by Colonel Edouard Brémond serving in the Hejaz, of which no mention is made in the film.[10] The film shows Lawrence as the sole originator of the attacks on the Hejaz railroad. The first attacks on this began in early January 1917 led by officers such as Newcombe.[11] The first successful attack on the Hejaz railroad with a locomotive-destroying "Garland mine" was led by Major H. Garland in February 1917, a month before Lawrence's first attack.[12] The film shows the Hashemite forces as comprising Bedouin guerrillas, whereas in fact the core of the Hashemite forces was the Regular Arab Army recruited from Ottoman Arab POWs, who wore British-style uniforms with keffiyahs and fought in conventional battles.[13] 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]

Peter O'Toole as T. E. Lawrence.

Many complaints about the film's accuracy centre on the characterisation of Lawrence. The perceived problems with the portrayal begin with the differences in his physical appearance: the 6-foot 2-inch (1.87 m) Peter O'Toole was almost nine inches (23 cm) taller than the man he played.[citation needed] His behaviour, however, has caused much more debate.

The screenwriters depict Lawrence as an egotist. The degree to which Lawrence sought or shunned attention, such as by 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 take pictures of him only by tricking him, although Lawrence did later agree to pose for several photos for Thomas's stage show. Thomas's famous comment that Lawrence "had a genius for backing into the limelight" referred to the fact that his extraordinary actions prevented him from being as private as he would have liked. Others disagree, pointing to Lawrence's own writings in Seven Pillars of Wisdom to support the argument that he was egotistical.

Lawrence's sexual orientation remains a controversial topic among 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 homosexual. The film features Lawrence's alleged sadomasochism as a major part of his character (for instance, his "match trick" in Cairo, 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 before then. The film's depiction of Lawrence as an active participant in the Tafas Massacre was disputed at the time by historians, including biographer Basil Liddell Hart, but most current biographers accept the film's portrayal of the massacre as reasonably accurate.

Although the film does show that Lawrence could speak and read Arabic, could quote the Quran, and was reasonably knowledgeable about the region, it barely mentions his archaeological travels from 1911 to 1914 in Syria and Arabia, and ignores his espionage work, including a pre-war topographical survey of the Sinai Peninsula and his attempts to negotiate the release of British prisoners at Kut in Mesopotamia in 1916.

Furthermore, in the film, Lawrence is only made aware of the Sykes–Picot Agreement very late in the story and is shown to be appalled by it, whereas the "real" Lawrence, while fighting alongside the Arabs, knew about it much earlier.[14]

Lawrence's biographers have had a mixed reaction towards the film. Authorised biographer Jeremy Wilson noted that the film has "undoubtedly influenced the perceptions of some subsequent biographers", such as the depiction of the film's Ali as the real Sherif Ali, rather than a composite character, and also the highlighting of the Deraa incident.[15] (In fairness to Lean and his writers, the Deraa connection was made by several Lawrence biographers, including Edward Robinson (Lawrence the Rebel) and Anthony Nutting (The Man and the Motive) before the film's release). The film's historical inaccuracies are, in Wilson's view, more troublesome than what can be allowed under normal dramatic license. At the time, Liddell Hart publicly criticised the film, engaging Bolt in a lengthy correspondence over its portrayal of Lawrence.[16]

According to Sonoma State University associate professor Ajay Gehlawat, the portrayal of Lawrence also qualifies as a a cinematic white savior.[17]

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 respected and liked each other. Lawrence once said Allenby was "an admiration of mine"[18] and later that he was "physically large and confident and morally so great that the comprehension of our littleness came slow to him".[19] In contrast to the fictional Allenby's words at Lawrence's funeral in the film, upon Lawrence's death Allenby remarked, "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."[20] 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 did manipulate 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, where Allenby coldly allows the town to fall into chaos as the Arab Council collapses.[21]

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 toward Lawrence in the film is in fact the opposite of Murray's real feelings, although for his part Lawrence seemed not to hold Murray in any high regard.

The depiction of Auda abu Tayi as a man interested only in loot and money is also at odds with the historical record. Although Auda did at first join the Arab Revolt for monetary reasons, he quickly became a steadfast supporter of Arab independence. Notably after Aqaba's capture, he refused repeated bribery attempts by the Turks (though he happily pocketed their money) and remained loyal to the revolt. He was present with Lawrence from the beginning of the Aqaba expedition and in fact helped plan it along with Lawrence and Prince Faisal.

Faisal, far from being the middle-aged man depicted, was in reality in his early 30s at the time of the revolt. Faisal and Lawrence respected each others' capabilities and intelligence. They worked well together.[22]

The reactions of those who knew Lawrence and the other characters say much about the film's veracity. Its most vehement critic of its accuracy was Professor A.W.(Arnold) Lawrence, the protagonist's younger brother and literary executor, who had sold the rights to Seven Pillars of Wisdom to Spiegel for £25,000. Arnold Lawrence went on a campaign in the United States and Britain denouncing the film, famously saying, "I should not have recognised my own brother". In one pointed talk show appearance, he remarked that he had found the film “pretentious and false." He went on to say his brother was "one of the nicest, kindest and most exhilarating people I’ve known. He often appeared cheerful when he was unhappy.” Later, to the New York Times, Arnold said, “[The film is] a psychological recipe. Take an ounce of narcissism, a pound of exhibitionism, a pint of sadism, a gallon of blood-lust and a sprinkle of other aberrations and stir well.” Lowell Thomas was also critical of the portrayal of Lawrence and most of the film's characters, believing the train attack scenes were the only reasonably accurate aspect of the film.

The criticisms were not restricted to Lawrence. The Allenby family lodged a formal complaint against Columbia about the portrayal of him. Descendants of Auda abu Tayi and the real Sherif Ali, despite the fact that the film's Ali was fictional, went further, suing Columbia. The Auda case went on for almost 10 years before it was dropped.[23]

The film has its defenders. Biographer Michael Korda, author of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, offers a different opinion. While 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," 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."[24] Stephen E. Tabachnick goes further than Korda, arguing that the film's portrayal of Lawrence is "appropriate and true to the text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom."[25] British historian of the Arab Revolt David Murphy wrote that though the film was flawed due to various inaccuracies and omissions, "it was a truly epic movie and is rightly seen as a classic".[26]



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 either Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard or Robert Donat as Lawrence, but had to pull out due to financial difficulties. David Lean himself had been approached to direct a 1952 version for the Rank Organisation, but the project fell through. Also, 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 life as a screenplay, but was re-written for the stage when the film project fell through. Sam Spiegel grew furious and unsuccessfully attempted to have the play suppressed, furor at which helped to gain publicity for the film.[27] Dirk Bogarde had accepted the role in Ross; he described the cancellation of the project as "my bitterest disappointment". Alec Guinness played the role on stage.

Lean and Sam Spiegel were coming off the huge success of The Bridge on the River Kwai, and were eager to work together 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. Despite extensive pre-production work (including location scouting in India and a meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru), Lean eventually lost interest in the project.[28] 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 when Spiegel convinced a reluctant A.W. Lawrence to sell the rights to The Seven Pillars of Wisdom for £25,000, the project got underway.

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.[citation needed]

Michael Wilson wrote the original draft of the screenplay. However, 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 in order to make it a character study of Lawrence himself. While many 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 film 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 even notes the physical similarity between Rumm and Ford's Monument Valley.[29] 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 Jordan and Morocco, as well as Almería and Doñana in Spain. 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, Hussein met and married Toni Gardner, who was working as a switchboard operator in Aqaba. The only tension occurred when Jordanian officials learned that English actor Henry Oscar, 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.

The Mudéjar pavilion of the Parque de María Luisa in Seville appeared as Jerusalem.
The Plaza de España in Seville appeared as Britain's Egyptian Expeditionary Force Headquarters in Cairo, which included the officers' club.

In Jordan, Lean planned to film in the real Aqaba and the archaeological site at Petra, which Lawrence had been fond of as a place of study. However, the production had to be moved to Spain, much to Lean's regret, due to cost and outbreaks of illness among the cast and crew before these scenes could be shot. The attack on Aqaba was reconstructed in a dried river bed in southern Spain (at 37°1′25″N 1°52′53″W / 37.02361°N 1.88139°W / 37.02361; -1.88139); it consisted of over 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 the former's 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.[30] One of the second-unit directors for the Morocco scenes was André de Toth, who suggested a shot wherein bags of blood would be machine-gunned, spraying the screen with blood. Second-unit cinematographer Nicolas 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, 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 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 Amman during a break in filming, he bought a piece of foam rubber at a market and added it to his saddle. Many of the extras copied the idea and sheets of the foam can be seen on many of the horse and camel saddles. The Bedouins nicknamed O'Toole "'Ab al-'Isfanjah" (أب الإسفنجة), meaning "Father of the Sponge".[31] 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. Coincidentally a very similar mishap befell the real Lawrence at the Battle of Abu El Lissal in 1917. In another mishap, O'Toole seriously injured his hand during filming by punching through the window of a caravan while drunk. A brace or bandage can be seen on his left thumb during the first train attack scene, presumably due to this incident.

Along with many other Arab countries, Jordan banned the film for what they felt to be a disrespectful portrayal of Arab culture. Egypt, Omar Sharif's home country, was the only Arab nation to give the film a wide release, where it became a success through the endorsement of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who appreciated the film's depiction of Arab nationalism.


The 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.[32] 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 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[33] 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.[34]

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.

However, 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 Orchestra 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.

The original release ran for about 222 minutes (plus overture, intermission, and exit music). A post-premiere memo (13 December 1962) noted that the film was 24,987.5 ft (70 mm) and 19,990 ft (35 mm). With 90 ft of 35 mm film projected every minute, this corresponds to exactly 222.11 minutes.

In an email to Robert Morris, co-author of a book on Lawrence of Arabia, Richard May, VP Film Preservation at Warner Bros., noted that Gone With the Wind, never edited after its premiere, is 19,884 ft of 35 mm film (without leaders, overture, intermission, entr'acte or walkout music) corresponding to 220.93 min.

Thus, Lawrence of Arabia, slightly more than 1 minute longer than Gone With the Wind, is the longest movie ever to win a Best Picture Oscar.

In January 1963, Lawrence was released in a version edited by 20 minutes; when it was re-released in 1971, an even shorter cut of 187 minutes was presented. The first round of cuts was made at the direction and even insistence of David Lean, to assuage criticisms of the film's length and increase the number of showings per day; however, during the 1989 restoration he passed blame for the cuts onto by-then-deceased producer Sam Spiegel.[35] In addition, a 1966 print, used for initial television and video releases, accidentally altered a few scenes by reversing the image.[36]

The film was screened out of competition at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.[37] and at the 2012 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.[38]

Restored director's cut[edit]

The current "restored version", undertaken by Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten (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 Aqaba, a brief scene of Turkish officers noting the extent of Lawrence's campaign, and the battle of Petra (later reworked into the first train attack), but these scenes were probably not filmed. The actors still living at the time of the re-release dubbed their own dialogue, though Jack Hawkins's dialogue had to be dubbed by Charles Gray (who had already 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.[39] Reasons for the cuts of various scenes can be found in Lean's notes to Sam Spiegel, Robert Bolt, and Anne V. Coates.[40] The film runs 227 minutes in the most recent director's cut available on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

Lawrence of Arabia has been released in five different DVD editions, including an initial release as a two-disc set (2001), followed by a shorter single disc edition (2002), a high resolution version of the director's cut with restored scenes (2003) issued as part of the Superbit series, as part of the Columbia Best Pictures collection (2008), and in a fully restored special edition of the director's cut (2008).[41]

Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg helped restore a version of the film for a DVD release in 2000.[42]

New restoration, Blu-ray and theatrical re-release[edit]

An 8K scan/4K intermediate digital restoration was made for Blu-ray and theatrical re-release[43] during 2012 by Sony Pictures to celebrate the film's 50th anniversary.[44] The Blu-ray edition of the film was released in the United Kingdom on 10 September 2012 and in the United States on 13 November 2012.[45] The film received a one-day theatrical release on 4 October 2012, a two-day release in Canada on 11 and 15 November 2012, and was also re-released in the United Kingdom on 23 November 2012.[46]

According to Grover Crisp, executive VP of restoration at Sony Pictures, the new 8K scan has such high resolution that when examined, showed a series of fine concentric lines in a pattern "reminiscent of a fingerprint" near the top of the frame. This was caused by the film emulsion melting and cracking in the desert heat during production. Sony had to hire a third party to minimise or eliminate the rippling artefacts in the new restored version.[43] The digital restoration was done by Sony Colorworks DI, Prasad Corporation and MTI Film.[47]

A 4K digitally-restored version of the film was screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival,[48][49] at the 2012 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival,[38] at the V Janela Internacional de Cinema[50] in Recife, Brazil, and at the 2013 Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose California.[51]


Upon its release, Lawrence was a huge critical and financial success and it remains popular among viewers and critics alike. 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 films ever made. Its visual style has influenced many directors, including George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, and Steven Spielberg, who called the film a "miracle".[52]

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.[53] In 1991, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1999 the film placed third in a BFI poll of the best British films and in 2001 the magazine Total Film called it "as shockingly beautiful and hugely intelligent as any film ever made" and "faultless".[54] 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. T. E. Lawrence, portrayed by O'Toole, has been selected as the tenth-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute.[55]

Lawrence of Arabia is currently one of the highest-rated films on Metacritic; it holds a 100/100 rating, indicating "universal acclaim". However, some critics—notably Bosley Crowther[56] and Andrew Sarris[57]—have criticised the film for an indefinite portrayal of Lawrence and lack of depth.

Awards and honours[edit]

35th Academy Awards
(Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)[58]
Best PictureSam SpiegelWon
Best DirectorDavid LeanWon
Best Art DirectionJohn Box, John Stoll and Dario SimoniWon
Best CinematographyFrederick A. YoungWon
Best Substantially Original ScoreMaurice JarreWon
Best Film EditingAnn V. CoatesWon
Best SoundJohn CoxWon
Best ActorPeter O'TooleNominated
Best Supporting ActorOmar SharifNominated
Best Adapted ScreenplayRobert Bolt and Michael WilsonNominated
16th British Academy Film Awards
(British Academy of Film and Television Arts)
Best Film from any SourceSam Spiegel and David LeanWon
Best British FilmSam Spiegel and David LeanWon
Best British ActorPeter O'TooleWon
Best British ScreenplayRobert Bolt and Michael WilsonWon
Best Foreign ActorAnthony QuinnNominated
20th Golden Globe Awards
(Hollywood Foreign Press Association)
Best Motion Picture – DramaDavid Lean and Sam SpiegelWon
Best Director of a Motion PictureDavid LeanWon
Best Supporting ActorOmar SharifWon
Most Promising Newcomer – MalePeter O'TooleWon
Most Promising Newcomer – MaleOmar SharifWon
Best Cinematography, ColorFrederick A. YoungWon
Best Actor in a DramaPeter O'TooleNominated


Film director Steven Spielberg considers this his favourite film of all time and the one that convinced him to become a filmmaker.[59]


In 1990, the made-for-television film A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia was aired. It depicts events in the lives of Lawrence and Faisal subsequent to Lawrence of Arabia and featured Ralph Fiennes as Lawrence and Alexander Siddig as Prince Faisal. The film 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. A principal departure from the earlier film shows Faisal closer in age to Lawrence and in sometimes troubled roles of friendship and collaboration with him—a clear echo of Lawrence's friendship with Sherif Ali in the original. The film was generally well received and deals more with the political ramifications of Lawrence's efforts in the Middle East.

In 2008, Syrian director Thayer Mousa had created a film also based from Lawrence's life called Lawrence Al Arab (Lawrence of Arabia in Arabic). But they also changed some names of fictional characters in the 1962's like Sherif Nasir (Ali), Mr. Brighton (Mr. Dryden), S. F. Newcombe (Harry Brighton) and more.

Robert Pattinson will play Lawrence in director Werner Herzog's upcoming film Queen of the Desert, based on the life of Gertrude Bell (also known as the female Lawrence of Arabia). Bell will be portrayed by Nicole Kidman.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (RESTORED VERSION) (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. 31 March 1989. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Turner 1994, pp. 41–45
  4. ^ Lane, Anthony (31 March 2008). "Master and Commander". The New Yorker. 
  5. ^ Turner 1994, pp. 45–49
  6. ^ Turner 1994, p. 49
  7. ^ Turner 1994, p. 51
  8. ^ Turner 1994, pp. 137–138
  9. ^ Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916–1918, London: Osprey, 2008 page 17
  10. ^ Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916–1918, London: Osprey, 2008 page 18
  11. ^ Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916–1918, London: Osprey, 2008 page 39
  12. ^ Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916–1918, London: Osprey, 2008 pages 43–44
  13. ^ Murphy, David The Arab Revolt 1916–1918, London: Osprey, 2008 page 24
  14. ^ cf. Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence (1990), pp. 409–410
  15. ^ Wilson, Jeremy. "Lawrence of Arabia or Smith in the Desert?". T. E. Lawrence Studies. Retrieved 26 February 2011. 
  16. ^ L. Robert Morris and Lawrence Raskin. Lawrence of Arabia: The 30th Anniversary Pictorial History. pp. 149–156
  17. ^ Gehlawat, Ajay (2013). The Slumdog Phenomenon: A Critical Anthology. Anthem Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-85728-001-5. 
  18. ^ "The Seven Pillars Portraits". 
  19. ^ "General Allenby (biography)". 
  20. ^ "General Allenby (radio interview)". 
  21. ^ Steven C. Caton, Lawrence of Arabia: A Film's Anthropology, p. 59
  22. ^ "Prince Feisal". 
  23. ^ Adrian Turner, Robert Bolt: Scenes From Two Lives, 201–206
  24. ^ Korda, pp. 693–694
  25. ^ Lawrence of Arabia: An Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood, Press, 2004. p. 24
  26. ^ Murphy, David The Arab Revolt, Osprey: London, 2008 pages 88–89
  27. ^ Brownlow 1996, pp. 410–411
  28. ^ Brownlow 1996, pp. 393–401
  29. ^ Brownlow 1996, p. 443
  30. ^ Brownlow 1996, pp. 466–467
  31. ^ Peter O'Toole, interview on the Late Show with David Letterman, 11 May 1995.
  32. ^ The Economist. Obituary: Maurice Jarre. 16 April 2009.
  33. ^ (29 January 2010).
  34. ^ Maurice Jarre on. (23 September 2005).
  35. ^ Brownlow 1996, pp. 484,705,709
  36. ^ Caton, S.C. (1999). Lawrence of Arabia: A Film's Anthropology (pp. 129–131). Berkeley/Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21082-4.
  37. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Lawrence of Arabia". Retrieved 3 August 2009. 
  38. ^ a b "Karlovy Vary International Film Festival – Lawrence of Arabia". Retrieved 4 July 2012. 
  39. ^ "Alternate versions for Lawrence of Arabia (1962)". 
  40. ^ "Director's Notes on Re-editing Lawrence of Arabia". 
  41. ^ "Lawrence of Arabia (Collector's Edition) DVD". Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  42. ^ Wasser, Frederick (2010). Steven Spielberg's America. Polity America Through the Lens. Polity. p. 222. ISBN 978-0-7456-4082-2. 
  43. ^ a b Rob Sabin (20 December 2011). "Home Theater: Hollywood, The 4K Way". Ultimate Tech. Source Interlink Media. Retrieved 24 February 2013. 
  44. ^ Lawrence of Arabia on Blu-ray Later This Year. (12 June 2012).
  45. ^ Lawrence of Arabia Blu-ray Disc Release Finalized. (7 August 2012).
  46. ^
  47. ^, Lawrence of Arabia: Sony's Beautiful 4K Restoration, by Debra Kaufman, 2012
  48. ^ Cannes Classics 2012 – Festival de Cannes 2013 (International Film Festival).
  49. ^ 'Jaws,' 'Lawrence of Arabia,' 'Once Upon a Time in America' and 'Tess' to Get the Cannes Classics Treatment | Filmmakers, Film Industry, Film Festivals, Awards & Movie Reviews. Indiewire (26 October 2012).
  50. ^ Janela Internacional de Cinema do Recife | Festival Internacional de Cinema do Recife.
  51. ^
  52. ^ Lawrence of Arabia: The film that inspired Spielberg » Top 10 Films – Film Lists, Reviews, News & Opinion. Top 10 Films.
  53. ^ American Film Institute (17 June 2008). "AFI Crowns Top 10 Films in 10 Classic Genres". Retrieved 18 June 2008. 
  54. ^ Film, Total. (18 September 2010) Lawrence Of Arabia: Two-Disc Set Review.
  55. ^ "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains". AFI. Retrieved 20 December 2013
  56. ^ Crowther, Bosley (17 December 1962). "Screen: A Desert Warfare Spectacle:'Lawrence of Arabia' Opens in New York". The New York Times. 
  57. ^ T.E. Lawrence.
  58. ^ "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 23 August 2011. 
  59. ^ DVD documentary, A Conversation with Steven Spielberg

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]