Queen of the Desert: Herzog’s First Film in Six Years Underwhelms
Telling the story of the British traveller and archaeologist Gertrude Bell’s adventures through the deserts of Arabia during the early 1900’s – a woman who played a major role in the foundation of countries like Jordan and Iraq – is something unarguably worthy of its place on the big screen. However, what was supposed to be a sweeping and epic biopic of a woman who was often referred to as the female Lawrence of Arabia has transpired to be a passionless depiction of someone we never get to really know, much less care about.
We first meet the wealthy British-born Gertrude (Kidman looking particularly old for the part but no one seems to notice) complaining to her parents of not having enough excitement in her life now that she has graduated from Oxford University. Convincing her father to send her to Tehran to stay with her British minister uncle, and cousin Florence (Earl), Bell soon gets the taste of adventure she’s been looking for when she meets and falls for her guardian, junior British diplomat Henry Cadogan (Franco)
The two are quick to share a romance and soon begin to make plans to get married; however, Bell’s father is doesn’t approve. Their love affair soon ends and Bell decides to heal her broken heart by venturing deep into the desert, hoping to discover new places and meet new people.
A lot was expected from Werner Herzog’s first feature film in six years; however, the end result fails to capture the value of its source material. Written and directed by the man himself, Queen of the Desert is surprisingly bare of any emotion, lacking the weight and the passion needed to hold up its material and failing to convey the importance of its story and it’s subject to any real effect.
On the plus side, the visuals are on occasion enchanting and the director includes his trademark long shots of the vast surroundings and accompanies them with a sweeping musical score rather effectively. However, its polished photography is not enough to distract the audience from the fact that Herzog is lost in how to deliver Bell and her story, reducing her to something closer to bored rich girl looking for something fun to do.
The performances contribute to the flatness of it all, with Kidman failing to muster up any form of stimulation to bring her character to life, while her on-screen pairing with I-can’t-be-bothered-with-the-English-accent Franco – unsurprisingly squinty and unnatural in his performance – registers almost as a parody. It’s all a little boring and stale and if you want to learn more about Ms. Bell and her contribution to the Arab world, there’s always Wikipedia.