Gertrude Bell, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ridley Scott

I read the other day that Ridley Scott wants to make a biopic of Gertrude Bell. Fantastic! Can’t wait to see it. Who the heck is Gertrude Bell, you ask? I first learned about her from reading a biography by Janet Wallach called, The Desert Queen (1996,2005). A spinster from an upper-class British family, she lived an extraordinary life (1868-1926) as a brilliant student, a cartographer of the Arabian Desert, friend to Lawrence of Arabia and advisor to Sir Winston Churchill.


By 1915, she was hired as the only female officer of British intelligence called “Major Miss Bell”. Her political savvy helped create Iraq as we know it today. Here’s a more recent biography of Gertrude by Georgina Howell (2007).


As an adventurer and explorer, her pre-war 1914 travels and documentation of Arabia gained strategic significance by World War I. What is it about her that’s remarkable? That she learned Arabic? That she criss-crossed the Arabian desert at the turn of the twentieth century with only her devoted servant? That she lived in tents, rode camels, communicated with the nomadic Turks and sheiks? That they respected her opinion and thought of her as a nobility? That she thrived in a male world when she could have been serving tea in an English parlor? Her intelligence and fearlessness inspires me.


If you are curious about this military strategist and British scholar, check out the following PBS website devoted to T.E. Lawrence.


Remember Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia? The 1962 film won seven Oscars including Best Picture. No wonder Ridley Scott is licking his chops to feature Gertrude Bell. Before Scott comes out with the film, I recommend reading one of the biographies. Hmm. Who would play the role of Gertrude? Can’t wait to find out.

11 thoughts on “Gertrude Bell, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ridley Scott

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  1. That was the first thing I said when I saw your title “who the hell is Gertrude Bell?” Sounds like a great project for Scott.

    My first time visiting your blog and I enjoyed looking around . When you get the chance swing by our humble film blog and let me know what you think.


      1. He was an adventurer and language savant. He traveled extensively in Africa, the Middle East, and India. He’s long dead, and I think you could probably find his works free on Project Gutenberg or as free Kindle books. Being 19th century, you have to accept that there’s going to be some ethnocentrism in there, and some might find it disconcerting that he donned a disguise to be be only known non-Muslim to visit Mecca (and live to tell the tale.) Donning a disguise was a rouse that was sometimes necessary when you traveled where he did. (If you could pull off the language, which he apparently could.)


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