Queen of the Desert

Apr 8, 2017

Pretty dry, I'd say.

Queen of the Desert

Grade: C

Director: Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man)

Screenplay: Herzog

Cast: Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge), James Franco (The Interview)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 2 hr 8 min

by John DeSando

Although it’s not Lawrence of Arabia, and Robert Pattinson suffers from O’Toole comparison, director Werner Herzog still brings to life

the hitherto little-known heroine, Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman). Her exploits at the beginning of the 20th century helped cast a favorite light on Bedouins and Druses as she moved among them and helped negotiate the end-of-WWI land split in Arabia and environs.

Herzog will have to suffer my criticism that remembers his crazed but magnetic wild men like Aguirre and Fitzcaraldo.  Queen lacks the energy in his many stories of madmen like Aguirre. Here, while Nicole appears aristocratic and smart, she never rises above the thoughtful scholar or emerging anthropologist.

Alas, too much is the time spent with the two loves of her life and not enough time among the tribes and diplomats she had to corral to get her inside unknown territory. Why must women in movies still be defined by the men they love?

Herzog is not at his best with virtually half the film watching her dance around the Tehran Embassy diplomat, Henry Cadogan (James Franco), and the British officer, Charles Doughty-Wylie (Damian Lewis).  Herzog misses the more romantic possibilities of her involvement in the war effort in favor of two not very interesting romances.

That her loves tend toward their suicide hints at the powerful woman who could have sparked these annihilations. Kidman, a fine actress who gives a nuanced performance here, is mostly directed to play coy more than adventuresome.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at