One thing you can count on in a film by Werner Herzog is striking cinematography, and his “Queen of the Desert,” with its mid-East locations, lends itself to this, and in that respect, Herzog doesn’t disappoint.
However, dramatically it is an uphill battle bringing to the screen the saga of the fabulous Gertrude Bell, a Brit who earned the reputation as a female Lawrence of Arabia. The plus is that she is portrayed by Nicole Kidman, who captures her independent spirit and sophistication as she roams among the Bedouins and the Druse in facilitating British manipulation of the region.
Bell is a woman from the pages of history, and the film reflects the extraordinary exploits of her life. Still, the way matters unfold on screen is sometimes hard to believe. She is in situations in which it would have been easy to be killed or raped. One explanation for her survival is protection by local rulers as she ventures into dangerous territory inhabited by dangerous men.
However, Kidman lends authority to the character, and it is amusing to watch her stand up to someone with all the dignity of a woman of power. There is of course a personal side to her, as with her involvement with a handsome compatriot played by James Franco.
But mainly “Queen of the Desert” is a portrait of a woman far ahead of her time, an adventuress whom one can admire for her courage, personality and spirit. An IFC Films release. Reviewed April 7. 2017.