One cloudy Sunday afternoon at the beginning of April 1990, the prisoner’s of Strangeways, Manchester decided to riot and so the news was extended and so the TV premiere of “The Director’s Cut” of Lawrence Of Arabia was delayed by about ten minutes, I then sat back to be quite literally, blown away by one film. Three and a half hours later my life was transformed forever!
I had encountered Lean’s work before, as my mum was a fan of Dickens (Great Expectations) and had seen Doctor Zhivago when it was released, plus we had studied Hobson’s Choice at school, but when I started film studies within General Studies at A-Level I began to realise how important the work of a director was. I remember Mr Bennison telling us that when he was young, the director’s name was the last thing on the screen before the film started, so he knew his job was important. This comment has always remained with me and so are a few of the films he mentioned, one was Lawrence Of Arabia.
Lean only made a handful of films which can be divided into three – The Early Films (In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and Hobson’s Choice ), The Anne Todd films (The Passionate Friends, Madeleine and The Sound Barrier) and The Later Films (Summertime, Bridge On The River Kwai, Lawrence Of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Ryan’s Daughter and A Passage To India). We all have our favourites, but none quite achieves the vision of Lawrence.
I am not sure how historically accurate this film is, but it is such a spectacle, that is doesn’t seem to matter, in a time when everything is CGI, you only have to see the first 30 minutes of the film to realise what Lean achieved here without CGI. It is loosely based on The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom by Thomas Edward Lawrence about the Arab revolt in the desert during World War I. However over the course of the three and a half hours you really get to find out nothing about Lawrence at all, which is summed up at many times in the film, such as his funeral at the beginning when a journalist asks “Yes, but can you tell me something about Colonel Lawrence himself?” which doesn’t seem to matter as you are taken on such an extraordinary journey with Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence, the cinematography of Freddie Young, the music of Maurice Jarre and the direction of David Lean.
It is probably the only film in Oscar history not to contain a single performance from a woman, which is probably one reason this film could never be made today, it is doubtful any studio would lump up the cash to spend over a year in the desert and over another year editing the epic. Running at a colossal 222 minutes originally, it was cut by 20 minutes by the premiere and another 15 when it was re-released it 1971, it 1989 David Lean restored it to 216 minutes and premiered it at the Cannes Film Festival. It is probably the first time a “Director’s Cut” was released, which now seem common place, unfortunately Lean died on the 16th April 1991 and when never got to see another director’s cut.
After “Lawrence” he seemed worn out and was always trying to achieve the same spectacle, with “Zhivago” he did for snow what he did for sand in “Lawrence”, but it was a lesser film as was his next film “Ryan’s Daughter”. Coming close to four hours, it rambles on and on for a film which should have been 90 minutes at the most and the critics tore him apart for it, so much so that he didn’t make another film for fourteen years (A Passage To India – his last).
So as the prisoners on the roof of Strangeways rioted, I was transfixed to a film which should only really be seen in full scope in the cinema, I have only had the opportunity once, 5 years ago in Liverpool and it was a bad print, but still worth the experience.
UK Premiere 10/12/1962 (London) DF Viewing 01/04/1990