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Gertrude Lowthian Bell, sometimes called the "female" Lawrence of Arabia was a British adventurer, archaeologist and political powerhouse, who helped shape the modern Middle East after World War I. Voiced and executive produced by Tilda Swinton, the film chronicles Bell's journey into the uncharted Arabian desert and all-male halls of colonial power with never-seen-before archival footage of the region shot a century ago. The film takes us into a past that is eerily current.
This factual mistake happens in the German version. In the movie a title card reads: "Capture of Baghdad from the Turks: General Maude's Victory, March 11, 1917". This of course means that British forces under General Maude have captured Baghdad. However, the German version subtitles this as "Einnahme Bagdads durch die Türken: General Maudes Sieg, 11. März 1917". This translates as "Turkish forces capture Baghdad: General Maude's Victory, March 11, 1917". An obvious mistake. See more »
Long before there were guide books and people trekked through the Middle East, Gertrude Bell travelled on a camel through desert areas only inhabited by roving bandit chieftains. She kept meticulous notes of the various tribes, their relationships, and even carried an expensive transit/theodolite. She developed a very strong attachment to the area and its peoples. This was an age of great exploration, witness Col. Fawcett exploring the Amazon. What all these explorers developed was an intense and passionate interest in the places they visited. They learned the languages and studied the habits of the people.
The directors tell the story of Gertrude Bell's time in Mesopotamia or modern day Iraq through her many letters. They are absolutely fascinating in that not only is her interior life and feelings revealed, but a good deal of information about the political and social conditions in the empire at that time. I believe the directors were smart to stick to the letters and make them the focus of the story. The documentary is brilliant in what it doesn't say. The viewer can make up their own minds, the information is pretty overwhelming. What I found most fascinating were the monuments and historical objects that were uncovered. They indicate far earlier and complex civilizations that had a grasp of our place in nature and in the cosmos. Bell went to great lengths to establish a museum to preserve these artifacts to man's origin. Curiously both T. E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell both had rather violent ends. One by an untimely motorcycle accident and the other by an overdose.
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