Queen of the Desert

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Maybe I didn’t pay attention in history class as much as I should’ve, but if somebody would’ve asked me if I knew who Gertrude Bell was, I might’ve guessed Alexander’s wife. She was a trailblazing explorer who…probably has a much more interesting life than this movie shows us. Instead of capturing her complexity and finding out what drives her…we’re wondering if she really just misses her man (James Franco, who is surprisingly bland).

It’s bizarre that filmmaking genius Werner Herzog is the writer/director responsible for a desert epic, with costumes and British accents, that is as dry as the desert it’s filmed in.

It’s the turn of the 20th century, and Bell (Nicole Kidman) shows she’s an independent woman that certainly goes against gender stereotypes. She goes to Syria, Jordan, Persia, photographing folks and…boring us to tears. Aside from the well-shot desert landscapes, there’s just not a lot here. The dialogue got corny at times. The cast seems a bit stiff. At one point my wife said, “It’s like Robert Pattinson did this movie so he could say ‘I played Lawrence of Arabia opposite Nicole Kidman. Take that, Kristen Stewart!”

Damian Lewis (Homeland) gives a solid performance as a British officer.

Kidman is fine in the role, although she doesn’t have the look of someone that’s trudged through harsh desert landscapes.

My wife made the observation that it’s nice they had an actress Kidman’s age (49) playing the love interest of Franco (38-years-old). Usually Hollywood does that the opposite way. It’s just a shame we never really got to Bell’s motivations. The movie at least sparked my interest in learning more about her, and I spent 30 minutes after the film reading up about her. I found out some interesting stuff. It’s a shame more of it couldn’t have made it into the movie, which failed to ever show us the motivations of this archaeologist, writer, traveler, spy, officer, and explorer. We just get a meandering mess of a movie.

It gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.

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