When my dad took me to see this film at the cinema in Mexborough (South Yorkshire) my tiny schoolboy mind was much puzzled that nobody else noticed the glaring continuity error. Within seconds of the curtain going up, Lawrence dies on his motorbike at the beginning of the film. And yet, unperturbed by his own death he goes off to fight a guerrilla campaign in World War I in the desert . . .
Throughout the war, young lieutenant T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) keeps returning to Cairo and complaining that he won’t go back to the desert because he’s not fit. Then someone gives him a drink or a cigarette and off he tears again into the sand to kill more Turks.
He does this three or four times until everyone gets so pissed off with him that they send him back to England so he can ride motorcycles around all the time (even though he actually killed himself doing this very thing at the beginning of the film).
There are also several thousand camels, miles of sand and loads of big explosions. Add a bombastic Maurice Jarre score, pumped-up Technicolor and a few dignified thespians to brown-up as Arabs (Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn) and you have a package designed for Oscars to be flung at.
Of all the cinematic epics captured on 70mm (rather than on 35mm and then blown up), few come as grand and successfully realised as Lawrence of Arabia.
The $15 million picture was three years in the making (the 14-month shoot lasted longer than the Arab revolt itself) and – unsurprisingly – won seven Oscars in 1962, including Best Film and Best Director.
A restored version with an extra 35 minutes added, was released in 1989.
Auda Abu Tayi