1962 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #233: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

One of the actors most associated with Oscar has to be Peter O’Toole. Unfortunately for the man himself it’s for all the wrong reasons as the late British acting legend was famously nominated for a mammoth eight Best Actor Oscars but never one won. The next three posts will look at his work and explore the first three films which he received acting nominations for.

We start with the film that made O’Toole a star in the form of Best Picture winning Lawrence of Arabia. At the time, O’Toole was a famous stage actor and when the film was announced he wasn’t the first choice for the lead role. In fact Marlon Brando and Albert Finney had both been considered for the part however O’Toole was the man who was finally chosen to lead David Lean’s movie. For those unaware of the story, O’Toole stars as TE Lawrence who starts the film as an odd lieutenant who is sent to assess Arab Prince Faisal’s attack on the Turks. Though Lawrence is told to agree with his colonel he later suggests to Faisal that they try to attack Aqba and create a passage for the Brits. During the trip across the desert, Lawrence manages to ingratiate himself with the Arab group after he goes back for one of their party who falls off his camel. It is at this point that Lawrence’s army clothes are burnt and he becomes and Arab. When he returns to the British officer’s quarters they are shocked to see that Lawrence has changed significantly and now thinks of himself as an Arab. The second half of the film then looks at Lawrence the conqueror as he listens less and less to his British superiors. Meanwhile American war correspondent Jackson Bentley starts to document Lawrence’s story and is fascinated by the man himself. However Lawrence almost gets too big for his own boots and so both the Arabs and Brits plot to bring him down for different reasons.

Lawrence of Arabia won the Best Picture at the 1963 ceremony and you can definitely see why. As we’ve seen in the past the academy loves an epic and David Lean’s film gave them quite the epic. The sweeping cinematography of F.A. Young is quite iconic especially in the scenes in which Lawrence and his company traverse across the desert. Maurice Jarre’s iconic score has also lasted the test of the time and to me perfectly captures the essence of Lawrence’s journey. O’Toole himself excels in his breakthrough role as he is able to portray Lawrence’s change in attitude with ease. Though comment was passed about how much more attractive O’Toole was than the actual Lawrence I don’t think this hampered his performance at all. Of the other cast members Omar Sharif was absolutely captivating as the sheriff who warms to Lawrence throughout the film. The realism of the piece is also enhanced via the costumes and sets which are all incredibly well-designed while the Jordanian and Moroccan scenery perfectly doubled for Cairo. I know it may be a little sacrilegious but I felt the film dragged a little bit certainly in its first third. I personally believe that the scenes before Lawrence got to the desert could have been a little less baggy which would’ve improved the pace. Thankfully the second half of the film was great as Lawrence almost gets a little bit too big for his boots and you can see his downfall coming a mile off. The film itself won seven awards including one for Lean and one for Young’s cinematography. Meanwhile O’Toole shot to stardom however he failed to win the Best Actor Award an accolade that would evade him throughout his career.


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