Lawrence of Arabia (1962)



Critic Consensus: The epic of all epics, Lawrence of Arabia cements director David Lean's status in the filmmaking pantheon with nearly four hours of grand scope, brilliant performances, and beautiful cinematography.

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Movie Info

This sweeping, highly literate historical epic covers the Allies' mideastern campaign during World War I as seen through the eyes of the enigmatic T. E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole, in the role that made him a star). After a prologue showing us Lawrence's ultimate fate, we flash back to Cairo in 1917. A bored general staffer, Lawrence talks his way into a transfer to Arabia. Once in the desert, he befriends Sherif Ali Ben El Kharish (Omar Sharif, making one of the most spectacular entrances in movie history) and draws up plans to aid the Arabs in their rebellion against the Turks. No one is ever able to discern Lawrence's motives in this matter: Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) dismisses him as yet another "desert-loving Englishman," and his British superiors assume that he's either arrogant or mad. Using a combination of diplomacy and bribery, Lawrence unites the rival Arab factions of Feisal and Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn). After successfully completing his mission, Lawrence becomes an unwitting pawn of the Allies, as represented by Gen. Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and Dryden (Claude Rains), who decide to keep using Lawrence to secure Arab cooperation against the Imperial Powers. While on a spying mission to Deraa, Lawrence is captured and tortured by a sadistic Turkish Bey (Jose Ferrer). In the heat of the next battle, a wild-eyed Lawrence screams "No prisoners!" and fights more ruthlessly than ever. Screenwriters Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson used T. E. Lawrence's own self-published memoir The Seven Pillars of Wisdom as their principal source, although some of the characters are composites, and many of the "historical" incidents are of unconfirmed origin. Two years in the making (you can see O'Toole's weight fluctuate from scene to scene), the movie, lensed in Spain and Jordan, ended up costing a then-staggering $13 million and won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The 1962 Royal Premiere in London was virtually the last time that David Lean's director's cut was seen: 20 minutes were edited from the film's general release, and 15 more from the 1971 reissue. This abbreviated version was all that was available for public exhibition until a massive 1989 restoration, at 216 minutes that returned several of Lean's favorite scenes while removing others with which he had never been satisfied. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
PG (N/A)
Action & Adventure , Classics , Drama
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Columbia Pictures


Peter O'Toole
as T.E. Lawrence
Alec Guinness
as Prince Feisal
Omar Sharif
as Sherif Ali Ibn el Karish
Anthony Quinn
as Auda abu Tayi
Jack Hawkins
as Gen. Allenby
Anthony Quayle
as Col. Brighton
Claude Rains
as Mr. Dryden
Arthur Kennedy
as Jackson Bentley
Donald Wolfit
as Gen. Murray
Michael Ray
as Farraj
I.S. Johar
as Gasim
Gamil Ratib
as Majid
Michel Ray
as Farraj
Howard Marion-Crawford
as Medical Officer
Jack Gwillim
as Club Secretary
Harry Fowler
as Cpl. Potter
Hugh Miller
as RAMC Colonel
José Ferrer
as Turkish Bey
Jack Hedley
as Reporter
Kenneth Fortescue
as Allenby's Aide
Stuart Saunders
as Regimental Sergeant Major
Fernando Sancho
as Turkish Sergeant
Henry Oscar
as Reciter
Norman Rossington
as Corporal Jenkins
John Ruddock
as Elder Harith
M. Cher Kaoui
as Khitan of Aleppo
Jack Gwyllim
as Club Secretary
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Critic Reviews for Lawrence of Arabia

All Critics (74) | Top Critics (17)

Lean and photographer Fred A. Young have combined their artistic talents in an evocation of the Arabian desert that makes it both terrifying and deeply moving in its lonely grandeur.

Full Review… | February 16, 2016
New York Daily News
Top Critic

It is O'Toole who continually dominates the screen, and he dominates it with professional skill, Irish charm and smashing good looks.

Full Review… | February 19, 2009
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

It was a big bold project and has turned out a big bold film.

Full Review… | February 19, 2008
Top Critic

No excerpt available.

Full Review… | February 26, 2007
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

[It] remains one of the most intelligent, handsome, and influential of all war epics.

December 13, 2006
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

The passage of time has only proved how difficult it is to run ideas, history, characterisation and landscape in harness on this sort of scale.

Full Review… | June 23, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Lawrence of Arabia


A splendorous epic restored to near perfection, running now for almost four hours of magnificent visuals and fantastic dialogue, and it offers us both O'Toole and Sharif in superb performances - especially the former as a complex, contradictory man in a journey from eccentric soldier to mad exhibitionist.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

An indisputable classic concerning an unruly British soldier (Peter O'Toole) tasked by the army to provide assistance to the Arabs in their battle against the Turks. This sweeping, nearly four-hour epic is definitely a long watch, but a rewarding one if you have the patience to see the complete arc of a fascinating, arresting character. O'Toole is the perfect man of the part, as he fully captures the emotions of a character in a "fish out of water" scenario. Aided by a strong supporting cast and a story that expertly captures the politics of the days of the WWI, this is a bonafide masterpiece. Sure, it is definitely overlong, but it is better that way, as it feels in some ways viewing the movie as a journey itself, which in turn feels fitting.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer

T.E. Lawrence binds Arab tribes in the West's battle against the Turks. While I consider this film necessary viewing for anyone who considers him/herself a student of film, I can't say that it is unquestionably great. Yes, Peter O'Toole's performance is marvelous, and David Lean's direction, particularly the cinematography, is quite strong as he frames beautiful shots and often captures the mood of the environment. However, at close to four hours, the film is extraordinarily long, and some of its length can be attributed to Lean's penchant for showing people walking great distances in order to carry out the scene. Rather than keep the camera focused on a character as he walks into the scene, it's rather simple to show the character approaching, cut away to an reaction shot, and then have the character present to begin the scene. It's a technique that's so often used we barely notice it any longer. It's true that Lean is trying to capture the vastness of the desert, but he does this in so many other parts of the film that I could see how the film's running time could be trimmed considerably. More important is the film's relationship to race and politics. Edward Said writes eloquently about Lawrence in Culture and Imperialism arguing that Lawrence follows a tradition of colonialists who treat Arabs and Arabia as racially inferior. The film argues that Lawrence's relationship to these people is far more complex than Said claims. The Lawrence of the film recognizes his white privilege and is in conflict with his own identity. which makes a compelling conflict. If the film's relationship to race and colonization stopped there, then I wouldn't have a problem with it. After all, just because the film's thesis differs from Said's opinion of Lawrence doesn't mean it's a film to be rejected. But the casting is more problematic. Alec Guinness, a Brit, and Anthony Quinn, a Mexican, portray Arabs in - for lack of a better term - "brown face." The only Arab in the film with a major speaking role in Omar Sharif (who coincidentally harassed Edward Said during their school days). While I balk at calling Lawrence of Arabia a racist film, I think that it's fair to say that the casting and the inability of the film to fully question the morality of Lawrence's behavior makes it racially problematic. Overall, I think you should see this film because its scope and its technical proficiency are extraordinary, but it's not without its ambiguity and flaws.

Jim Hunter
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

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