Queen of the Desert | Movie Review

Werner Herzog directing Kidman, Franco, Pattinson and Damian Lewis in an biopic set in the desert. Welcome to QUEEN OF THE DESERT, some of the true story of Gertrude Bell. I had been very keen on seeing this ever since the trailer as it looked fantastic. And for some reason I have been liking Kidman more and more over the last few years. Adding to this it also helps the movie stars RPatz and James Franco, two gents I am happy to watch all day long.

QUEEN OF THE DESERT is out now from the fine folks at Transmission Films. It is on limited art-house release, runs for 128mins and is rated M.


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QUEEN OF THE DESERT is a chronicle of Gertrude Bell’s life; a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, and political attaché for the British Empire at the dawn of the twentieth century.

Bell became highly influential to British imperial policy-making due to her knowledge and contacts, built up through extensive travels in Greater Syria, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, and Arabia. In addition, along with T. E. Lawrence, Bell supported the Hashemite dynasties in what is today Jordan as well as Iraq.

She played a major role in establishing and helping administer the modern state of Iraq, utilising her unique perspective from her travels and relations with tribal leaders throughout the Middle East. Highly esteemed and trusted by British officials Bell was given an immense amount of power for a woman at the time. Furthermore, Bell was “one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection”.

She was a fearless leader looked up originally as more of a wealthy eccentric buffoon.  Most concerning was her travelling into the dangerous desert areas of the middle east. However it was this eccentricity and love for the beauty of the desert that later helped her forge the early Middle East.


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I viewed QUEEN OF THE DESERT with a long-time online friend, owner of the Australia RPatz fan club whom I have worked with in the past but never met. There would be wine and chats beforehand – winning! We were all set for a marvelous movie, a visual splendour and acting powerhouse performance. Instead, sadly, we got a melodramatic, too long, movie that concentrated more on Bell’s romantic dalliances. In addition it only lightly touched on any story with true grit. Bell was a sublime woman of influence, a woman to be looked up to by young ladies of today. Instead they showed a shallow version of her tale.


This version of her story is told by (most notably) documentary directing stalwart Werner Herzog. Herzog concentrates more on the romantic dalliances of this iconic lady who should be celebrated. Broken hearted at the loss of her true love she decides to use her family’s wealth to leave societal life behind to travel into the heart of the Middle East.

Herzog makes a beautiful looking film and gets the best out of his cast but sadly the plot is dreadful. And frustratingly Herzog doesn’t deliver the biopic this woman deserves. Considering Herzog’s documentaries are mostly about adversity and powerful people created by their environment it was odd to see him deliver so much melodrama. That being said, this is a movie I would take my grandma to, god bless her soul if she was still with us. QUEEN OF THE DESSERT does throw back to the movies of old with its sweeping cinematography, love interests and beautiful cast.


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While the plot and the overall movie fail to deliver a great Bell story the cast deliver performances worthy of awards. Firstly, casting Kidman was a brilliant move. In scenes from playing a twenty year old to negotiating with bedouins, Kidman’s strong personality and acting prowess are evident. A great piece of trivia from the film, Kidman never knew that vulture was at the top of the tower. That was true shock and that vulture really was trying to peck her.

Originally QUEEN OF THE DESERT was to star Naomi Watts with Jude Law, both had to leave for unknown reasons. Thankfully we got Kidman and James Franco is great opposite her Bell. Their chemistry was genuine and I loved their over-the-top romantic scenes together. The poetry scenes had me groaning but I could see that they probably got along really well off-set and their fondness felt very real.

And as for RPatz, one of his best performances. Pattinson’s Col. T.E. Lawrence, more known as Lawrence of Arabia, was fun and flamboyant. Sadly there isn’t enough scenes with Lawrence but I would happily pay money to see an entire Lawrence movie starring Pattinson.

Comparatively Damian Lewis’s Charles Doughty-Wylie was the only disappointment on the acting front. It wasn’t a terrible performance but in contrast to Franco and Pattinson it was completely lacklustre.


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Technically, the cinematography for QUEEN OF THE DESERT is decent. It will mostly remain unknown but they achieved two great cinematography rarities in a “desert” movie. They filmed in an actual dust storm, twice, something never really done due to the damage and uncontrollable nature of the sand. And secondly a true phenomenon on cinema, they caught a snow covered desert on film. While the viewer will just view this as something pretty this is a rare thing seen in the world and a great coup for the crew.



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QUEEN OF THE DESERT had so much potential but was let down by its plot and its direction. Most notably the screenplay should never have been filmed without epic re-writes to steer it in an acceptable direction. It’s washing down of this woman of great achievement into a Days of Our Lives in The Desert idol is atrocious. The ending showing her ride of into the desert as two future kings declare her the Queen of the Desert made me gag. However, the film is saved, JUST, by some great performances from Kidman, Franco and Pattinson. Take your grandma to this one for some light-hearted pretty drama.


2 and a Half Pops



 is the owner and editor of Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 25yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. All the social media links to the right and up will allow you to abuse, troll or stalk him :).

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.


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