If there was any justice, Lawrence of Arabia would be known as “the male Gertrude Bell,” instead of the other way around. Decades before Lawrence’s now-legendary exploits, Bell journeyed from England to the Middle East, gathered political and geographical intelligence on the landscape and earned the enormous respect of the Arab tribes. Later, she advised the Western leaders who, after World War I, divvied up the region into the nations we know now. More than anyone else, male or female, Bell helped shaped the modern Middle East, and hence the modern world. This stunning film, one of the most cinematically beautiful documentaries ever made, combines marvelous archival footage and photos—including many taken by Bell herself—with an in-their-own-words recounting of Bell’s life and work told entirely through firsthand sources: letters, diaries, secret dispatches and other documents. The insights, wisdom, intelligence, and humor of this adventurer, diplomat, and spy are enrapturing. This is a phenomenal portrait of a spirited, independent woman in an era when such qualities were not appreciated in women, and of a moment in political history that continues to reverberate today.
Director: Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl
Producer: Zeva Oelbaum, Denise Benmosche, Elizabeth Rodriguez Chandler, Ashley Garrett, Alan Jones, Ruedi Gerber, Thelma Schoonmaker and Tilda Swinton
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Michael Higgs, Eric Loscheider, Rachael Stirling, Adam Astill, Helen Ryan, Joanna David, Elizabeth Rider and Jürgen Kalwa