Festival Review: The Queen Of The Desert (2015)

Queen Of The Desert

A bombastic wannabe epic about desert explorer Gertrude Bell, not even Kidman and Franco can save Werner Herzog’s The Queen Of The Desert.

Desert Storm

by Mark Wilshin

The Queen Of The Desert

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

After years of making documentaries, Werner Herzog returns to fiction filmmaking with his oriental adventure The Queen Of The Desert. Like his ethnographic escapades in the Amazon jungle, it’s a journey back in time to Arabia before independence. And based on the life story of Gertrude Bell, politician, writer, anthropologist and explorer, it’s an odyssey of failed loves, desert trekking and 20th century empire building. But while Gertrude was lauded by the Beduin as the outsider who understood them best, Herzog unfortunately makes no such claims, steering his film away from Bell’s tribal studies and into a fantasy world of soft-focus romance and grandiose vistas. Despite a suitably buttoned-up performance from Damian Lewis, Nicole Kidman, James Franco and Robert Pattinson appear unmoored – left directionless in front of the camera and unable to muster the stiff-upper-lip of the Victorian Brit – Nicole Kidman seems to come straight out of Notting Hill while the less said about Franco the better. Gone are those days of bitter dispute with Klaus Kinski, unfortunately. Vapid and bombastic – with its sweeping score and swooping camera, The Queen Of The Desert seems to be aiming for glorious epic in the vein of Lawrence Of Arabia or The English Patient. But even by comparison with that other tale of one proud woman alone against the elements, Isabel Coixet’s Nobody Wants The Night, The Queen Of The Desert still fares badly – even less sure of its risible script and meandering direction. But as a tribute to an impressive woman forgotten by history, The Queen Of The Desert is Hollywood myth making at its finest – the single oasis in an otherwise arid desert.

The Queen Of The Desert is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival

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