Lawrence of Arabia: Britain's Great Adventurer (2020) Movie Script

Thomas Edward Lawrence -
the brilliant British Army officer
depicted in these exhilarating
moments from the movie classic
Lawrence Of Arabia.
It was 600 miles on a camel
and, I mean, really extraordinary.
He's seen as a military visionary
who led an Arab uprising...
Lawrence adapts guerrilla warfare
to the circumstances on the ground.
..and changed the world forever.
The British and the French are able
to negotiate the portioning
out of these Arab territories.
But Lawrence is one of the most
enigmatic figures
of the 20th century.
Those deep-rooted cross-currents
and contradictions.
It's mainly because of that
that we find him so fascinating.
Was he a man simply
running from his past?
They hid what at the time would've
been considered a dark secret.
They were masquerading
as a normal family.
A man tormented by doubts
about his identity?
He was describing abuse that
was physically
and sexually painful,
but that he may have enjoyed.
How much was Lawrence
driven by escapist fantasy?
Lawrence's mind is full of these
sort of heroic images.
This is a real life quest.
His journey took him
into the heart of a Middle East
transformed by monumental forces.
What you end up with is these
often cutting across
through tribes, through ethnicities.
They don't really make any sense.
A lifetime of guilt was
Lawrence's reward.
Arab expectations are really
absolutely dashed.
There is a great sense of
disappointment and betrayal.
This is the story of the real
Lawrence of Arabia.
For a decade and a half,
until his death in 1935,
Thomas Edward Lawrence,
Lawrence of Arabia,
is the most famous man in England.
He counts kings among his friends.
His name sells
newspapers in their thousands.
But the most famous man in England
might easily be the unhappiest.
TE Lawrence is running for his life.
He runs here, Clouds Hill,
a tiny primitive cottage in Dorset,
a refuge from the fame that is
killing him.
I think it was a case
of wanting fame,
but when it arrived,
he didn't like what it looked like.
It was very uncomfortable for him.
He would sometimes sit
absolutely silent and not move
from the same position all morning -
not move, not say anything.
He was really very depressed.
Lawrence retreats.
He retreats from the limelight,
but I think he's also
retreating into himself.
His Dorset retreat is also
a place to write,
a place to try and make sense of the
fame that has so unsettled him.
Letters to friends
punctuate his progress.
"I've found a ruined cottage.
"I've roofed it
and am flooring it.
"At present, one chair and a table.
"Too many people talking to me.
"Can't write."
The Lawrence myth turned a strange,
solitary man
into an international celebrity.
That myth had been born
as an exhausted and broken Europe
had dragged itself through the last
bloody days of the First World War.
The British and the French
are struggling on the Western Front.
And not only do you have France
experiencing what became
known as "the mincing machine"
of Verdun, but you also have the
infamous Battle of the Somme,
the bloodiest day in the history
of the British Army, with
almost 20,000 dead in a single day.
Lawrence's legend has chance
He is a minor figure in the British
war effort in the Middle East
when America joins
the conflict in 1917.
At the same time,
the US government wants good news
stories to sell the war at home.
A slick New York
journalist gets a call.
Lowell Thomas was an American
journalist who was sent out
to get copy, really, that might
persuade American boys to sign
up for the war.
Went first of all to the
Western Front.
Found nothing but mud and guts
and appalling things,
so he thought, "Oh, dear,
this is no good."
Alerted to what sounds like a more
marketable war being fought
1,000 miles to the east, Thomas
and his cameraman wash up in Cairo.
Here, the British,
under General Allenby,
are fighting the Ottoman Turks.
Initially, Lowell Thomas goes out
with his camera, and he takes some
great shots of Allenby marching up
and down
and lots of British soldiers.
And then he becomes aware of this
character, this young officer
who was having exploits,
sort of Boys' Own adventure stuff in
the desert.
"As this young Bedouin passed
by in his magnificent royal robes,
"the crowd in front of the bazaars
turned to look at him."
The "Blond Bedouin", as Lowell's
tabloid instincts christen him,
is Thomas Edward Lawrence.
He gets permission to go
and film him
and immediately sees that this
is cinematic gold.
This guy's wearing robes,
there are camels.
This is going to sell well to the
great American and British public.
So, in 1919, he started up this
picture show called
With Allenby In Palestine
And Lawrence In Arabia.
And after a while, he began to see
that people were more
interested in the Lawrence
in Arabia bit.
So, he dropped the
Allenby In Palestine
and called it
With Lawrence In Arabia.
Lowell's travelogue is a genuine
multimedia experience -
colour stills,
studio portraits of Lawrence,
dancing girls,
braziers burning incense
and all topped off with Lowell's own
breathless commentary
delivered live on stage.
This show, which is
a blockbuster success,
effectively creates
the legend of Lawrence of Arabia.
It turns Lawrence into a famous man,
into a household name,
into what Lawrence himself
described as "a matinee idol".
Here is the story of a war hero who
goes to Arabia,
and almost single-handed raises, for
the first time, a united Arab army.
He's the first mediated celebrity,
the first person to be
actually filmed
and bigged up on celluloid,
one of the first was Lawrence.
But the effect on him
was very ambivalent.
The story is that he would quite
often go and watch the show,
but he'd sit incognito at the back.
Another letter betrays his
"I am painfully aware of what
Mr Lowell Thomas is doing.
"He came out to Egypt on behalf
of the American government,
"spent a fortnight in Arabia -
"I saw him twice in that time -
"and there he seems to have realised
my star value on the film."
As the world's press gathers beyond
the walls of his Dorset retreat,
the most famous man in England sits
paralysed by self-doubt and guilt.
A legend has been
born on the screen,
but a broken and hollow-eyed spectre
watches on from the wings.
Who was this haunted man?
What had happened to
Lawrence of Arabia?
TE Lawrence grew up in a family
that was the very picture
of upper-middle class
He was the second of five sons born
to Thomas and Sarah Lawrence.
But the comfortable home
at number 2,
Polstead Road, North Oxford is
not all it seems.
And Lawrence's chance discovery
of the family's dark secret
turns his world upside down.
At the age of ten,
Lawrence overheard his father
talking about his family background.
And what he heard absolutely
staggered him.
His father, it turns out,
has another family in Ireland,
and the name Lawrence is
a total fiction.
The mother
and father weren't married.
Lawrence's father, Thomas Chapman as
he was, had abandoned
his first wife and daughters,
left them back in Ireland.
His mother, Sarah Junner, worked
as the governess
to Thomas Chapman's daughters.
And Thomas Chapman fell in love with
Sarah Junner,
eloped with her.
Thomas Chapman's wife was never
willing to grant a divorce,
which meant they were never able to
legitimise their relationship
by getting married.
It was conditioned in the young
Lawrence that this was
an unclean thing to be, that
illegitimacy was a badge of shame.
They were a normal family, or
masquerading as a normal family,
a regular upper-middle class family,
but with this very dark secret.
Behind closed doors, it is
the Lawrence children who pay the
penalty for their parents' choice.
The mother in particular, who
came from a very strict religious
background, never reconciled herself
to her unmarried status,
and she raised her boys almost as
though they would
atone for her sins.
She was very guilty about the
illegitimacy of her five boys,
and at some level I think she
regarded them as artefacts of sin.
In particular Ned, as he was called
in the family,
Thomas Edward Lawrence,
who was the most wilful, the most
independent, the most rebellious,
and that took the form of beatings.
It wasn't a quick once across the
bottom for some infraction.
They were meant to be much more
serious than that.
And if not physical, I think that he
carried emotional
scars for life as a result.
She left him with a bunch
of paradoxes.
The key one for me that stands out
is this unhealthy
connection between love and pain.
The two things were
part of the same equation.
He is then torn
apart by his illegitimacy,
by the social stigma associated
with illegitimacy,
by all of the anxieties that that
gives rise to
if you're a part of the
English upper-middle class
in the period before
the First World War.
The neighbours picked up there was
something odd about this family.
They kept themselves to themselves
in a way that others didn't.
So, he very early on got
the sense of otherness.
He started to question
received wisdom.
He didn't think that the established
rules applied to him.
There's a sense of not fitting in,
not belonging.
In his troubled isolation,
Lawrence takes to his books
and finds companionship and a simple
morality in Arthurian fantasy
and its tales of heroic knights.
He's looking for a world that's
black and white,
where you can tell
the heroes from the villains.
This is in sharp contrast
to his family life,
which is full of ambiguity,
petty grubbiness,
secrets, smokescreens.
Lawrence is completely
buying into that fairy tale
and perhaps is beginning to imagine
himself playing some
sort of comparable role,
like a latter day Arthurian hero.
Lawrence is consumed
in his protective fairy tale.
As a teenager,
he and his trusty steed
travel for miles
around the Oxfordshire countryside
in a quest for medieval churches
and the tombs of long dead knights.
He can retreat to a world which is
now unchanging
cos it's in the past.
What he liked about it was that it
involved knights doing deeds
of great valour, you know, on behalf
of other people and so on.
And I think that was a substitute
in many ways for the fact
that his parents had done
the wrong thing.
For Lawrence, this chivalric code
extends to setting himself tests.
From a very early age, he's got
a tendency to push himself
very, very hard indeed by these
great physical achievements
and great intellectual achievements.
There are stories about river rides
and arduous climbs and fasting,
pushing his body
well beyond its limits.
These strange tests continue
when he reaches Oxford University.
I mean, one day he was found with
a loaded revolver,
which he shot out of a window
like a madman.
And he said, "Oh, I've just
stayed awake for 52 hours
"to see what effect
it would have on me."
He just subjected himself to harsh
discipline to see how much
he could stand.
The seemingly ordinary scene with
the burning match from David Lean's
movie is an ominous nod to
one of Lawrence's characteristics.
You'll do that once too often.
It's only flesh and blood.
Lawrence did seem to have a very
high threshold for pain,
and that speaks to
dissociation as a child.
To be able to rise above your body
and to watch yourself as an observer
until the pain is over.
What that means is that for
he was throughout his life
numbed to pain.
He could overcome it
because he already had at the time
when he was most vulnerable,
at the hands of someone that
he trusted.
And again and again, we see him
pushing himself
beyond his physical limitations.
I think this is reflected most
obviously by the extraordinary
decisions which he
takes, really, as an undergraduate
student that he's going to do his
dissertation on Crusader castles.
What Lawrence chooses to do is to
take himself to the Middle East,
on his own, with a camera
and a notebook.
It's very dangerous.
It's very wild country.
And he walked - walked, mark you -
1,000 miles
all round Syria
and what is today Jordan,
looking at these castles,
drawing them,
meeting all the local
villagers and this kind of thing.
Somehow Lawrence manages to send
letters home.
"I have walked my boots to bits.
"My feet are all over cuts
and chafes and blisters,
"and the slightest hole rubs
up in this horrid climate,
"rubs up in no time into
a horrible sore."
Having survived his Syrian
he returns to Oxford,
where, in 1910, his research brings
him a first-class degree
and the chance to return to the
desert he loves.
Because Lawrence is a high achiever,
he has academic mentors at Oxford
who are very keen to shoehorn him
into his first job
on a high-profile,
a prestigious excavation
at Carchemish in
northern Syria.
And his job there is to
work as a very,
very young foreman managing
the local workforce.
He develops his Arabic,
an interest in the landscape,
in the culture, in the language
and an affinity with the people.
It allows him
to get out of the straitjacket
that, you know,
Edwardian England has on him.
Nobody knows who he is.
Nobody knows his background.
It was a fantasyland.
It was a land which took him
away from his parents
and the disaster of the family
and enabled him to live in a totally
romantic world.
In a way, the East at the time
represented some form of an escape
from, you know, kind of Western
European morality,
ideologies in general.
The East was seen as a space
of liberation,
especially for social
kind of misfits,
people who didn't feel at
home in Europe.
It is in Carchemish that Lawrence
meets a 14-year-old Arab boy,
a character who goes on to occupy a
central place in his imagination
for the rest of his life.
"Dahoum is an interesting character
"and has more intelligence than
the rank and file.
"He talks of going to Aleppo to
school with the money he has
"made from us, and I will try to
keep an eye on him
"and see what happens."
Dahoum becomes a close
friend of Lawrence's.
I don't think there is
any real doubt
that there is a homoerotic
There are pictures of the two of
them wearing each other's clothes.
Lawrence is rarely
photographed smiling,
but in the ones taken with Dahoum,
we see a different man.
Friends certainly,
but lovers?
He found the physical side of life
with other people
very, very difficult.
In fact, he even wouldn't
shake hands with people sometimes,
so the idea of him
having a relationship with a man or
a woman involving the physical,
let alone coitus,
was virtually, you know, laughable.
I don't think it was ever
I think Lawrence's,
uh, homosexuality
was throughout his
life sternly repressed.
There's a lovely quote,
which I think is quite telling,
where he says "to put my hand
on a living thing is defilement".
So, for me, he's a sexual puritan.
But Dahoum is much more than a
friend or lover.
For Lawrence, he embodies the
imagined purity of the Arab culture
that bewitched him.
"The perfectly hopeless vulgarity
of the half-Europeanised Arab
"is appalling.
"Better 1,000 times
the Arab untouched.
"The foreigners come out
here to teach,
"whereas they had much better learn.
"For in everything but wits
and knowledge,
"the Arab is the better of the two."
Dahoum becomes a kind of idealised
young Arab,
who is in some sense pristine and
and not spoiled and made corrupt by
contact with modernity.
Which he regarded as something that
was quite horrible,
and he used the word, I think,
He did not like modernity one bit.
And he's always envisaged
himself as somebody who didn't
belong to this modern era.
He was a romantic, classical hero
who happened to have been
born just in the wrong age.
If we think of Lawrence
as a would-be Arthurian knight,
he has got to find somebody in need
of help, in need of rescue,
in need of a hero to lead them.
In Lawrence's mind, the desert
Arabs, the Bedouin, that he
comes to know in Carchemish
take on that role.
These are people to be helped,
these are people to be lifted
out of their benightedness and their
poverty and their downtroddenness,
in the case of the Arabs, under
the heal of the Ottoman empire.
So there's this connection back to
King Arthur and the Knights
of the Round Table and the Crusades
and the whole kit and caboodle.
When he meets the Bedouin, it's
like Camelot with camels.
He's very comfortable there.
He's having his adventure.
Laurence's mind is full of these
sort of heroic images.
This is a kind of real life quest.
Lawrence's eccentric
way of looking at the world is set.
But the First World War will test
his worldview to breaking point.
So, in many ways,
he was set up for a hero's journey.
It's predestined.
The conflict that is to have such
an effect on Lawrence
begins in July, 1914.
The First World War is
fought on several fronts
and involves a complex
series of alliances.
For the British,
the enemy in the First World War
is primarily Germany.
But this is a war of alliances.
Britain goes to war primarily to
support its ally, France.
And of course,
Germany has its own allies.
And in October, November, 1914,
the Ottoman Empire enters the First
World War on the side of Germany.
With its power base in
the modern Istanbul in Turkey,
the Ottoman Empire has
for four centuries been the dominant
force in the Middle East.
It is the fight against the Ottoman
that is destined to be Lawrence's
Lawrence volunteers for service
when the war breaks out
and because of his particular
background he is shipped out
to Cairo and taken into British
military intelligence.
He becomes part of the Arab Bureau,
which is a little kind of think
tank and research unit attached to
British military intelligence.
Lawrence is put into the Arab Bureau
to start by gathering
intelligence on the Middle East,
all parts of the Ottoman Empire
and north Africa.
He's stuck in an office drawing
maps, doing cartography.
Lawrence's frustration is
illustrated in an atmospheric
and memorable
scene from the epic movie.
Michael George Hartley,
this is a nasty, dark little room.
That's right.
We are not happy in it.
I am!
Peter O'Toole's depiction
here of an impatient
and insubordinate Lawrence was
close to the truth.
He is reluctant to salute.
He is reluctant to wear full
He is often insolent towards
superior officers.
He loved sticking
pins into important people to see if
he could deflate them and of course
they got rather annoyed at all this.
Lawrence is said to be resentful
and irritatingly subversive.
In his own mind, an overlooked
and under-utilized warrior knight.
"We have no adventures save
those with a pen.
"One would be so much happier
in a trench where one did not have
"to worry about politics
and information all day."
"I'm going
to be in Cairo till the day I die."
The war is raging all around him.
He hasn't seen any action.
Two of his brothers are killed
on the Western Front before
he has even heard a gun
fired in anger.
Brothers that he was close to,
all the Lawrence boys were close
to each other, it must have
been devastating.
It is a succession of allied
military disasters
against the Ottoman army that gives
Lawrence the chance
to avenge his brothers.
1915, the British
and their Anzac allies
mount a naval landing at Gallipoli.
Very, very quickly, the British
and their allies realise that they
are facing a formidable foe.
They are landing at the bottom of
quite stark cliff faces,
and the Ottoman troops are literally
firing down onto them as they land.
It's a blood bath.
It's not hard to see why there was
no appetite for another
attack against the Ottomans.
And increasingly, British
strategists realise that they
need to fight the war differently
in this part of the world.
The map of the Middle East
looked very
different at the outbreak
of World War I.
Several countries familiar to us
now didn't even exist.
Much of the region fell within
the Ottoman Empire.
The British want to defeat the
Ottomans without committing troops.
Growing resistance from the Bedouin
Arabs gives them this chance.
It also gives Lawrence a way to
escape his desk job.
The key figure is Sharif Hussein,
guardian of the holy cities of Mecca
and Medina.
He is of a dynastic family.
He's an ambitious man.
He wants to see his family succeed.
And what he has to offer is
resources and willing fighters,
who follow him and his sons.
In return,
what does Sharif Hussein want?
Well, he essentially wants
the promise of an independent
Arab state at the end of the war.
And the British say, "Fine,
you can have it."
And Sharif Hussein says, "Well,
what are we agreeing on, exactly?
"Where are we going to draw
the borders?
"Where's the line for my Arabian
And the British respond by saying,
"Look, we haven't got time to
discuss this now.
"Let's settle the details
after the war."
Essentially he comes away with
a very clear sense of a promise
being made in return for an Arab
uprising against their Ottoman
Imperial masters, that Britain will
support the establishment of an
Arab independent state, with Hussein
and his dynastic family at the head.
The Arab Revolt gets
under way in June 1916.
But it stutters in its early stages
when faced with a well-supplied,
well-organized Ottoman army with
superior firepower.
Lawrence, due to his familiarity
with the people,
is sent by British commanders
to work out how they might
piggy-back the Arab Revolt.
In October 1916, Lawrence meets for
the first time
the Arab leaders to
work out what the British need to do
to bring support to the Arab Revolt.
For Lawrence, the Arab Revolt taps
directly into his psyche.
here is a real-life Arthurian Quest.
He saw himself as somebody defending
the poor, the downtrodden and
of course they were people fighting
on horseback and camelback so
that was going back to that romantic
idea of fighting more like knights.
Lawrence reports back that the
Revolt needs guns,
money and support.
It also requires an Arab leader
worth the British investing in.
Lawrence is seen here meeting the
man he believes is the key to that.
Hussein's son, Faisal.
He is very impressed by Faisal's
gravitas, the way he comes across
with a great kind of Arab dignity.
He looks like a real Arab prince.
"I felt at first glance
"that this was the man I had come to
Arabia to seek.
"The leader who would bring the Arab
Revolt to full glory.
"Faisal looked very tall
and pillar-like,
"very slender in his long,
white silk robes.
"His hands were crossed in front of
him on his dagger."
Lawrence immediately says,
"This is the one,
"this is the man who can
lead the revolt."
So he reports back
to his British superiors
that Faisal is the commander that
the British really ought
to invest their resources in.
And I think at this very early
stage there is a kind of rapport
developing between these two men.
So much so that Faisal now requests
of the British authorities
that they should attach Lawrence to
his staff permanently
as a liaison officer.
Lawrence's relationship with
Faisal is key.
It is also complicated.
This iconic
moment from David Lean's film
is loaded with symbolism and
The white robe is Faisal's
wedding garment.
Prince Faisal offered them
to Lawrence and Lawrence decided,
"Well, yes, I would love to wear
The fact that he knew he was wearing
Faisal's wedding dress
and that also plays into his
homoerotic fantasies.
It's very clear that he liked him,
that he regarded him as a very
handsome man.
In a way it's two in one, you know.
So this is this handsome prince
that he really liked, but also
he is the actual leader of the Arab
Revolt and "I'm wearing his wedding
dress and I'm fighting with him!"
So, that's...
Going into the desert was an
opportunity for him
to live the fantasy.
He was a stranger in a faraway land
and he immersed himself completely.
And in fact, this relationship
becomes absolutely crucial to
both men as the Arab Revolt unfolds.
Both men know that
Ottoman-held Damascus is the target.
The historic capital of the Arabs
has a huge emotional pull.
Lawrence is pushing their buttons
when he mentions Damascus
in their first meeting at Wadi Safr.
"And how do you like our place
here in Wadi Safra?", asked Faisal.
"Well," I replied.
"But it is far from Damascus."
"The word had fallen like a sword in
their midst.
"There was a quiver."
"Everybody present
stiffened where he sat
"and held his breath
for a silent minute."
"Faisal lifted his eyes, smiling
at me and said, 'Praise be to God.'"
Realising the dream of Damascus is
going to require imagination,
the Ottoman-held port of Aqaba falls
into Lawrence's sights.
Aqaba is hugely important in the war
because it's the northern-most port
on the Red Sea,
so that a force which is based at
is actually within striking
distance of Damascus.
Lawrence has been in the Middle
East for three years.
Long enough to know he can't
trust his British masters to deliver
on their promise of an independent
Arab kingdom.
He realises the British would reject
a decision to take Aqaba
since it would give the Arabs more
influence in redrawing the map
of the post-war Middle East.
So, for a torn Lawrence,
his next move is obvious.
He must flee
with the Arabs and go missing.
They don't know where he is.
He is at complete liberty to
do what the hell he pleases.
This suits him terribly well.
It suits Faisal so long as Lawrence
is doing what Faisal wants.
He goes completely off message,
he doesn't tell anybody where
he is going.
He doesn't consult with anybody
because he fears that
if he did do that, he would receive
a direct order not to go.
Lawrence and the Arab army
leave from the Red Sea town of Wejh.
It is an event fictionalised
in this vivid and spectacular
scene from the classic biopic.
The imaginary
character of Sharif Ali,
played by Omar Sharif, assesses
the route ahead.
And that is the desert.
From here until the other side, no
water but what we carry.
For the camels, no water at all.
If the camels die...
..we die.
And in 20 days they will start to
There's no time to waste, then, is
They have to cross al-Houl,
which is one of the most savage
pieces of desert
anywhere on the planet.
A great, waterless expanse.
The idea of moving any
number of troops across a desert
like that would be seen as,
if not a suicide mission then
a fool's errand at the very least.
It was 600 miles on a camel
and really extraordinary.
Even Lawrence says things like
"I'm sick this morning,
can't take much more of this."
Which shows how hard it was and
he was hardened, pretty hardened.
He used to walk around the desert
with nothing on his feet
just to see
if he could harden his feet.
Finally, after a gruelling eight
weeks in the desert,
their target is in sight -
the Turkish base at Aqaba.
The charge is an epic scene in
Lawrence of Arabia,
one based upon
Lawrence's own description.
"A charge of ridden camels
going nearly 30 miles an hour
"was irresistible.
"The Turks fired a few shots,
but most only shrieked
"and turned to run."
In this sumptuous sequence,
Peter O'Toole looks
full of confidence.
In fact, he was petrified.
Any confidence was the result
of the brandy and milk
he'd drunk prior to shooting.
In a furious flurry of
close-quarters killing,
the Ottoman battalion is destroyed
before they finally arrive at Aqaba
and the sea.
The actual moment of arrival
in the city
is captured in this photograph,
taken on 6 July, 1917.
So, Lawrence and Faisal
together understand
that taking Aqaba not only
gives them a base,
but it's also a great
psychological victory.
TE Lawrence has made
an incredible journey.
The boy who had once
concealed himself
within a Romantic, Arthurian
fantasy is now living it for real,
but he knows that his dream of
an Arab kingdom is in grave danger.
The consequences of that dream
will threaten to destroy him.
July 1917 - the third year of
the First World War.
TE Lawrence and Prince Faisal have
led their Arab army into Aqaba.
British forces under General Allenby
are gaining ground on
the Ottoman forces in the west.
All are heading north,
towards Damascus,
the heart of the Ottoman war effort.
The capture of Aqaba is a crucial
turning point for the Arabs
because a force
which is based at Aqaba
is actually within striking distance
of Damascus.
They've seized the initiative.
The Arabs are very much in the
driving seat of what happens next.
Lawrence, seen here
with his personal bodyguard,
also realises that the quest
for Arab sovereignty
leads to the dusty streets
of Damascus.
His Bedouin comrades have come
to trust his judgment.
His very un-British modesty
and respect
are clear at meetings
with tribal leaders.
Lawrence never said anything.
He would just sit there
and listen to all the other views
being put forward by
all the Bedouin chiefs.
When they had all finished talking,
Lawrence would then quietly say,
"Well, look, what about this?"
But if he had said to start with,
"Now, I don't want your opinions.
We've worked it out.
"What we are going to do is this,"
they would all have said
the equivalent in Arabic of
"Bugger off"...
LAUGHS: what they would have
said and wouldn't have done it.
It's not easy to deceive
people like this.
They are simple, on the level
of the education they may have,
but they're extremely sophisticated
in their capacity
to identify genuine people.
If it wasn't authentic,
they would have seen it.
But they didn't see it.
Lawrence is harbouring a secret,
knowledge of a confidential
British and French understanding
that breaks their promise of
a kingdom for the Arabs.
Lawrence knows that he is leading
military operations,
he's leading men into battle,
he's sometimes leading men to
their deaths, on the basis of a lie.
"We are asking them to fight
on a lie and I cannot stand it."
The so-called Sykes-Picot Agreement
had been drawn up in 1916
without Arab knowledge.
It anticipated dividing up the land
already promised to them
between the British and the French
in any post-war settlement.
When he knew the truth about
Sykes-Picot, he couldn't speak it.
And that was incredibly painful
for him.
Lawrence begins to be torn apart
by this contradiction
between a kind of embryonic
Arab nationalism,
which he identifies with, and the
machinations of the Imperial powers,
which he is all too well aware of.
So, he found himself
trying to mediate
the wants and the needs
and the desires
for all of these conflicting
parties, but at the same time,
he was also using all of these
different parties
in order to enact his own fantasy -
to be that knight, to be part
of this chivalric-like fantasy.
Lawrence has tipped Faisal off
about Sykes-Picot.
They know that if the quest for
an independent Arab kingdom
is to have any chance of success,
Lawrence will have to keep
his mouth shut
and exert his influence
from the wings.
Lawrence is very careful, so as not
to impose an understanding.
I think he allowed an understanding
to unfold.
He gambled on what he was best at -
leaving an impression.
He wanted to be trusted -
"I'm not so sure about those
who I represent,
"but you can definitely trust me."
And that worked.
Regardless of the betrayal,
the taking of Aqaba
has put Lawrence and the Arabs
front and central
in the fight against
the Ottoman Turks.
It is up to them to push against
the enemy in the east.
Lawrence goes straight for their
jugular - the Hejaz railway.
The Hejaz railway
runs from Damascus to Medina.
It was 800 miles long.
This is the crucial supply line
that is enabling the Ottoman Turks
to maintain a toehold
in the Hejaz region.
What it actually allows is the
Ottomans to move troops up and down
and to be in a position where
they can control any uprising
among the tribesmen.
Lawrence knows that he and his men
would always lose
a conventional battle against
the well-armed Ottomans... he needs to play to
his strength.
And the railway presents
a perfect target.
It is highly vulnerable to sudden,
surprise attacks
by mounted guerrillas, emerging out
of the vastness of the desert,
striking suddenly, unexpectedly,
and then disappearing
back into the desert.
It's a war of hit and run.
Lawrence doesn't create
guerrilla warfare.
What Lawrence does, very quickly,
is adapts guerrilla warfare
to the circumstances on the ground
and with the men in front of him.
The attack on the railway was
a gripping and stunning scene
in David Lean's classic.
This incredibly complex sequence was
shot on two miles of specially laid
track on location in Spain.
You don't go
and face people frontally.
So what Lawrence thought they should
do was to smash the railway with
But just enough to keep it
still going
so that the Turks would repair it,
and then you could smash it again to
cause them one hell of a nuisance.
So successful is Lawrence that as
many as 20,000 Turks are diverted
to try and stop him.
But there is little honour in this
type of guerrilla warfare,
striking unexpectedly
and indiscriminately,
bringing death and destruction to
combatants and non-combatants alike.
So, the Arabs would
go in then to clean up
and by clean up, of course, I mean
kill the people that were left
alive, to steal possessions
from them.
Running somebody through with
a sword can't be considered
a clean war. I mean, there were
massacres took place,
whether by the bullet or the sword.
"The killing
and killing of Turks is horrible.
"When you charge in at the finish
and find them all over the place
"in bits, and still alive, many
of them, and know that you have done
"hundreds in the same way before and
must do hundreds more if you can."
It's not like the romantic
image of war that you
see in a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
It's a horrible, dirty business.
Lawrence's chivalric fantasy, the
noble, clean war
fought in the name of an oppressed
is beginning to fade in the
harsh desert light.
Real life is different.
Real war is hell.
As Lawrence and his army harry
the Turks in the east,
British forces move west from Cairo.
Damascus beckons.
The Australians, the New Zealanders
and the British were edging the
Turks steadily backwards.
They take Gaza and then Jerusalem.
The Ottoman Empire, seemingly
invulnerable for 400 years, is
falling apart.
Everywhere the allied guns were
speeding the Turkish army's retreat
towards Constantinople.
Damascus, the ancient Arab city,
is there for the taking.
Feisal and Lawrence have been
discussing this for some time
and they say, "You've got to set up
a government in Damascus."
Getting to Damascus first
seems like the only way to outflank
the territorial stitch-up proposed
by the British and the French.
He was hoping, possession
being nine tenths of the law,
that if he could get the Arabs
into Damascus before anybody else,
they could lay claim to it.
And maybe that could turn the tide.
Forced by events to choose between
the British and his Arab friends,
he chooses the Arabs.
On 1 October, 1918, Damascus falls
to British desert mounted cavalry.
Lawrence and Feisal are too late.
They are seen here going to meet
British General Edmund Allenby
at the Victoria Hotel.
As Lawrence and Feisal had feared,
the British renege on the deal
with the Arabs.
The British ultimately
decide that they would rather
honour their promises to the
French about having Damascus,
about having Syria, than give
in to the wishes of a few Arabs.
Feisal leaves the Victoria Hotel.
Feisal has imposed upon him
French advisers,
a situation which Feisal is
very unhappy with.
Lawrence too is angry.
He feels Feisal
and the Arabs have been betrayed.
But deep down,
he feels he is to blame.
This is when that sense of guilt,
that feeling that starts
eating him from within,
so to speak, starts taking over.
Lawrence's distress can be
seen in this photograph
taken at the Victoria hotel
just 30 minutes after
he resigns his position
in the British Army.
Camelot with camels has crumbled
before his eyes.
He is full of
regret and remorse.
"I presumed,
seeing no other leader with the will
"and the power, that
I would survive the campaign
"and be able to defeat not merely
the Turks on the battlefield
"but my own country and its allies
in the council chamber.
"It's not yet clear if I succeeded,
but it is clear that I had no
"shadow of leave to engage the
Arabs, unknowing in such a hazard."
Added to this,
his dear friend Dahoum is gone.
The beautiful boy, entwined forever
in his mind with the innocent
happiness of Carchemish, had died
there of typhoid just weeks before.
When Dahoum dies,
Lawrence is grief-stricken.
There's an innocence
and purity to Dahoum.
He is the embodiment of an ancient
Eastern people.
"I liked a particular Arab very much
and thought freedom for the race
would be an acceptablepresent."
So could this really all have
been for Dahoum?
His death also represents the death
of those narratives which he
was able to hold for a relatively
long time.
He nearly almost got there,
but he died.
But then also his death meant also
the death of the Arab dream.
In a kind of despair, and I think
he's very low indeed, I think he's
deeply depressed at this moment.
He seeks from Allenby release
from service,
and Allenby grants
his request and he heads home.
"The old war is closing
"and my use is gone.
"I wonder how the Powers will let
the Arabs get on."
For him this was an innocent quest
and the fact that it was muddied
along the way by politics and vested
interests left him completely
demoralised and disillusioned about
the part that he had played in it.
The dream turned to dust.
The Great War is over.
and her allies are crushed.
An exhausted and disillusioned
TE Lawrence is back in London.
His Arab friends are about to be
sidelined by the western
powers in a carve-up
of the Middle East.
Then out of the blue, Lawrence gets
a summons from Buckingham Palace.
He goes at once.
He walks in and he's offered
a knighthood.
I mean, the highest, you know,
civilian honour
that can be accorded in Britain.
And he refuses it, I mean, the story
goes, on the spot, point blank.
The King apparently was left
standing, shocked.
People don't generally say no to
kings and the reason
he gave for refusing it was because
of the betrayal of the Arabs.
Lawrence said the empire
and the French were not giving
the Arabs their due
and were dishonouring the country
and he wouldn't be part of it.
He does not want to profit from it,
to benefit from it in any way.
It would violate his deep
sense of conscience
of what is right were
he to have done so.
The Imperial powers meet in Paris
in 1919 to decide how to punish
Germany and her allies,
and how to divide the spoils.
From the sidelines, Lawrence has to
fight even to secure an Arab
He wrote lots of articles to the
English newspapers,
The Times and that sort of thing,
saying we had let them down
and we were going to let them down,
this was very bad.
And he persuades the British
that there should be Arab
representation, and it takes British
negotiation to persuade
the French that Arab representative
needs to be at the Paris peace
So, that person is Feisal.
Lawrence acts as Feisal's
But he is much more than that.
He's ostensibly attached to the
British delegation,
but in reality he's working very
closely with his friend
and comrade in arms,
Feisal, and of course what
he's trying to do is to get the best
possible deal that he can.
There is certainly concern
among some in the British camp,
and the French camp, even
more in the French camp, that they
don't quite know whose side
Lawrence is on.
Lawrence and Feisal protest about
the deal the Arabs thought they had.
But few are listening
in the mirrored halls of Versailles.
He was trying his best to salvage
what clearly had shattered.
He thought he could embarrass
his own country into delivering
what it didn't deliver.
The Paris peace conference winds up
with the future of the Middle East
There is to be another
meeting of leaders in Cairo.
But before that happens comes the
event that is to change Lawrence's
life forever, the release of Lowell
Thomas's Arabian fantasy.
The American journalist who had
filmed him for a few days in the
Middle East a year before
has fashioned from his
material a sensational show.
Lawrence barely recognises
the version of himself he sees.
Politically this is good for
It definitely gives him a degree
of publicity for the Arab cause
that would have been impossible
without Lowell Thomas.
But on a personal level,
fame is the very last thing Lawrence
needs right now.
The man who stares out from Thomas's
publicity photos
can have no idea what's coming.
He finds out soon enough.
"Lowell Thomas has been
lecturing in America and London
"and has written a series of six
articles about me.
"They are as rank as possible and
are making life very difficult for
The trauma of the war, the sense
of guilt, the fact that he's
still involved in post-war
diplomacy, so he's got all of the
stress of
trying to achieve something for the
Arabs, his former comrades in arms,
and at the same time he's being
turned into a heroic figure and a
celebrity, he's an early example of
20th-century celebrity culture.
It's a huge load, I think, for him
to be carrying at this
moment in his life.
"I have neither
the money nor the wish to
"maintain my constant character
as the mountebank he makes me.
"He has a lot of correct information
"and fills it out with stories
picked up from officers and by
Suddenly being heroic after fighting
the desert campaign on a lie with
Sykes-Picot in the background
made it also feel a fraud as well.
So therefore he didn't deserve this
fame, he didn't deserve the, what he
notoriety for what he'd done, so I
think fame was very painful to him.
The Cairo conference takes place
in March 1921.
There's a fabulous photograph
of Churchill looking very
out of place on a camel and Lawrence
there looking much more at home,
posing for the obligatory
photograph in front of the pyramids.
Lawrence is there at the Cairo
conference as an adviser to
Churchill, who at the time was
the Colonial Secretary.
Churchill to a certain
extent gets it.
And I think he didn't like what he
He didn't like the idea that the
British were
seen as the people who
betrayed a dream.
But Lawrence knows Churchill's sense
of honour will only get the Arabs so
The Sykes-Picot agreement returns to
dash his hopes for Feisal
and the Arabs.
It's the point at which Lawrence
accepts that the French,
to the British,
are more important than the Arabs.
And it's at that meeting that
Sykes-Picot takes on greater
The British and the French negotiate
the portioning out of
Arab territories.
Nevertheless, for the British some
sense of obligation persists.
There is this sense of debt to be
owed to Feisal by the British.
And if they can't give him
what he wants,
then perhaps they can give him
something else.
Feisal is given the crown of Iraq,
a country they have literally just
drawn on the map.
He's duly sent to Baghdad.
It's the first time he has set foot
in the country, it's his coronation.
So there's Feisal,
he didn't get Arabia as he was
crowned Feisal I of Iraq,
thanks to the British.
I guess the British see
it as a halfway house,
that they are in some way
honouring their promise to
Hussein whilst also honouring that
promise to the French.
But really it's very much
a facade of British Imperial
control through different means.
The map of the Middle East that
emerges suits nobody
but the French and the British.
What you end up with is these
boundaries, often cutting across
through tribes, through ethnicities,
they don't really make any sense.
Arab expectations are really
absolutely dashed by
the final settlement.
There is a great sense
of disappointment and betrayal.
The people who had welcomed Lawrence
and Feisal into Damascus now
see the settlement as a betrayal
by Lawrence himself.
The overwhelming approach would be,
to Lawrence, that he was part of
a conspiracy against them, that he
was an agent of an imperialist
Lawrence withdraws. His head tries
to tell him this is a compromised
peace with honour.
"I assured them during the
campaigns that our promises
"held their face value and backed
them with my word.
"My relief at getting out of the
affair with clean hands is very
But in his heart he knows it is
a rank betrayal.
After he came back to England,
his mother talks about him sitting
between the hours of breakfast
and lunch and dinner, just
staring into the void.
It's the reality that life isn't
as straightforward as he wanted
it to be when he was a boy,
cycling around,
dreaming of King Arthur
and the Knights of the Round Table.
The empire that he is working for is
a treacherous empire.
There are all of these modern
contradictions tearing apart
the vision which Lawrence has.
He realised that his fantasy
of being this righteous
foreigner who goes to the
aid of a downtrodden people,
that that was fatally flawed,
that along the way there would be
so many compromises and trade-offs,
so much deception that he would
become a liar in his own eyes.
There is a real weariness,
a physical weariness
and a mental weariness which has
torn him apart psychologically
and brought him to the
point of mental breakdown,
psychological collapse, so that
at this time he's very close,
he admits this himself,
he's very close to suicide.
By the early 1920s,
TE Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia,
is a reluctant international
His role in the Arab Revolt plays
publicly as key in the defeat of the
Ottoman Empire,
and the end of the Great War.
Lauded by monarchs and prime
Lawrence could have had anything he
wanted from the masters of the
British Empire.
Instead he disappears,
alone, to the wilds of Dorset.
It's a small worker's cottage with
no electricity and no running water.
Surrounded by woodland.
It's a place where
he could be alone.
It was one place he could,
if you like, delude himself
was home for him.
It's an ugly little cottage, really.
I think after his years in the
desert, he enjoyed the simplicity.
There's something quite
monkish about Lawrence.
Alone with his troubled mind,
Lawrence finds solace in writing.
A revealing personal account of the
Arab Revolt, called Seven Pillars of
It is a book that has been
taking shape for some time.
It's an extraordinary biography,
because it is an act of catharsis.
There's no doubt at all that
when one reads it, one is reading
the outpourings of a deeply troubled
man, a man who is riddled
with guilt, who is carrying a huge
burden of mental anguish coming
out of the war and is trying to deal
with that, in part, by sharing it,
by laying bare his soul, by talking
it through in the form of the book.
"The book was the record of me in
the Arab movement and before the end
"I was very weary and moved in a
haze, hardly knowing what I did.
"So far as it could be, it
reproduced the sight of my eyes
"and the evidence of my senses
and feelings.
"If people read it as history,
they mistake it.
"Day by day, as the years pass,
"I hate myself more and more
for the part I played in it."
Lawrence had believed the cause of
Arab self-determination to be
the real-life chivalric quest
he had always dreamed of.
The reality of war
and its aftermath has proved
a terrible disappointment.
His realisation
that his fantasy was flawed,
that was the beginning
of his unravelling.
He had gone in thinking that this
was going to be, you know,
Camelot with camels and he came
out of it having had a wake-up call,
that in the world of men,
there's never just pure intention.
You know, there is, everything is
muddied, everything gets grubby.
The dream of Arab nationhood
perished in the cynical
Imperial deal-making of Versailles
and Cairo.
Lawrence blames himself.
The Arabs had believed in him,
and he had let them down.
Men were dying for a lie
Which wouldn't have troubled
many of the military
establishment around the First World
War, but it troubled him.
On top of this, he has learned
the hard way of the cruel
and bloody cynicism of war.
Lawrence is basically
a conscientious man,
a decent man, actually.
And I think he is traumatised by
He saw and did things and perhaps
suffered things during the war
that certainly came back
to haunt him.
He had what would almost certainly
be called PTSD now.
There wasn't the psychological
understanding that would have
helped him through the trauma.
PTSD feels deeply distressing
because you can smell, you can
taste, you can feel, you can
hear, you can see
everything as though it was
happening to you all over again.
This is the moment when he's
most in the spotlight,
is really when he wants to retreat
to a darkened room.
To cope with his inner turmoil,
Lawrence withdraws from public life
to seek peace in the solitude
and anonymity that he
remembers from childhood.
"I was not very respectably born and
had to make my own way.
"The war elevated me too high
and I have reverted."
He was really very depressed,
one way and another.
He didn't want to have any
more command.
He wanted just to be told what to do
and have a daily job where
he could just get on with it,
not in the limelight.
To that end, in 1922, Lawrence makes
the extraordinary decision to
join the RAF, as an ordinary airman
and under a false name, Ross.
And then, when the press find him,
he joins the Tank Corps,
under the name Shaw.
He had started life with
a fake name.
This was just another reinvention.
I think we have to remember that
Lawrence was essentially
someone split. There are
so many different sides of him.
He reinvented himself many
times over. I think
he learned very early on that
this was a label.
It was something you could
take on and off,
like changing into a new
pair of shoes.
"I was an Irish nobody.
I tried something,
"it was a failure,
and I became an Irish nobody again."
But there is nowhere for
TE Lawrence,
Lawrence of Arabia, to hide.
He just can't get away from it.
I mean,
changing your name by deed poll
is no small step.
You know, he wasn't trying to draw
attention to himself
but it kept finding him out.
His great friend George Bernard Shaw
grew impatient with
Lawrence's attempts to get
away from his own legend.
"Like all heroes and,
I must add, all idiots,
"you greatly exaggerate your power
of moulding the universe
"around your personal convictions.
"You created Lawrence
and now you must put up with him
"as best you can."
Was he naive?
I don't think naive would be
the word I'd use.
More...the fame was unexpected
and he didn't understand
the pursuit of journalists.
But Lawrence did have secrets -
secrets he feared would one day
emerge in public.
While he was in the Tank Corps,
Lawrence paid
a young Scottish soldier named
John Bruce to beat him.
These beatings were, at Lawrence's
request, frequent and brutal.
They were a subject that caused
Lawrence much shame.
He did feel, as a result of this,
that he
couldn't go back into public
life, that this was a liability.
That's not a normal
way of operating.
That's not a normal way of
exorcising one's demons.
He has masochistic
tendencies, at the very least.
Was it punishment
because he failed the Arabs?
Was it a punishment
because he couldn't save Dahoum?
We can even take it back
to his childhood
when he received
beatings from his mother.
Love and pain and punishment had
become connected in quite
an unhealthy way,
and I think that was a pattern
he then repeated many times
over in the rest of his life.
The beatings administered by John
Bruce are part of this pattern.
A disturbing scene
in David Lean's film shows
Peter O'Toole's Lawrence captured
by the Turks and tortured...
..with undeniable menace and
sexual overtones.
To me!
The scene is based
on events described more graphically
in Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
"I was being dragged about
by two men, each disputing over a
"leg as if to split me apart,
while a third man rode me astride.
"I remembered smiling idly at him,
"for a delicious warmth, probably
sexual, was swelling through me.
"He hacked with the full
length of his whip into my groin.
"This doubled me half-over,
screaming, or rather
"trying impotently to scream,
"only shuddering through my mouth."
He was describing abuse that
was physically
and sexually painful,
but that he may have enjoyed.
And I think there is a passage
in the book that
suggests there was sexual
release from it.
"For fear of being hurt,
or rather to earn five minutes
"respite from a pain which
drove me mad,
"I gave away the only possession we
are born with,
"our bodily integrity."
He was left shattered
by his experiences in Deraa.
He replayed those memories, berating
himself for having surrendered
and given in because he couldn't
take the pain.
The need to receive pain,
to exorcise demons that he
couldn't get out.
That makes him a victim,
if that's the story, and more to be
pitied than anything else.
The impression of simplicity
given by Lawrence's pared back life
belies the seething
complexity of his inner world.
He is neither the man he seems nor
the man he wishes to be.
But there is another compulsion
that can be relied upon
to bind his wounds
and temporarily lift his spirit -
the thrill of danger.
"When my mood gets too hot
"and I find myself wandering beyond
control, I pull out my motorbike and
"hurl it at top speed through these
unfit roads for hour after hour.
"My nerves are jaded and gone
near dead so that nothing less
"than hours of voluntary danger will
prick them into life."
But the speed that liberates
Lawrence on the open road will also
prove to be his undoing.
The epic movie Lawrence of Arabia
with this almost pastoral
scene of the man on his motorbike.
The director and Peter O'Toole
were trying to bring
an enigma into focus,
a man who understands
the mechanics of a sonnet
and finds poetry in an engine.
That is what was
so extraordinary about him.
He could be interested in sort of
airy-fairy, head in the air stuff.
And then at the same time he could,
he could take a motorbike to
pieces and put it together again
and do all that sort of thing.
He was a man for all seasons
in that respect.
The two halves of the man
meet in the Brough motorbike
he names Boanerges,
Sons of Thunder -
the nickname Jesus gave to his
unruly disciples, James and John.
For Lawrence, it is poetry
in motion.
I think it was another
form of escape, as it is for lots
of people, speed.
And he said that driving fast down
country lanes was his safety valve.
He said he could forget himself,
that he'd be lost
when he was going at speed.
I mean, the Brough motorcycle could
do in excess of 100mph.
Think about that - in the early
1930s, that's an astonishing speed.
On May the 13th, 1935,
Lawrence is home at Clouds Hill.
He is finishing a letter.
He was an inveterate
letter writer. I mean,
hundreds of letters
written by Lawrence to friends.
It will turn out to be
the very last letter he writes.
He rides Boanerges to the
Post Office
and is on his way home.
The road undulates with several
blind dips.
Just over the top of the second
dip, he saw these two boy cyclists.
Some reports say
they were weaving around the road,
as boys would want to do
on a country lane.
He swerves to avoid them.
Lawrence is shot over the handlebars
and thrown against a tree.
He never regains consciousness.
His injuries are terrible.
Lawrence of Arabia dies in hospital
six days later.
On May the 21st, 1935,
Lawrence's funeral takes place at
this church in Moreton,
just three miles from Clouds Hill.
It was a little church,
a little village church.
Moreton's hardly a hamlet, even.
Winston Churchill is among the
famous names to make
the journey from London.
Churchill was in tears.
So, rightly or wrongly,
they all thought, you know,
an irreplaceable,
wonderful man has died.
There's no doubt about that.
The congregation sings John Wesley's
"Jesu, Lover of My Soul".
It is Lawrence's favourite hymn.
"Plenteous grace with thee is found.
"Grace to cover all my sin.
"Let the healing streams abound.
"Make and keep me pure within."
At the end of it all, it's a
very simple burial in a simple
churchyard, which I think befits
something at the heart of Lawrence.
This sense of asceticism,
the sense of simplicity,
this wanting a simple life,
which fame rather undermined.
Lawrence's headstone is at once
modest and grand.
It is the biggest in the churchyard,
but says almost nothing,
its ambivalence somehow appropriate
for the one who lies beneath.
The British public reading the
sorrowful headlines are
in little doubt about the official
status of this son of the Empire.
But Lawrence saw himself as a
Lawrence of Arabia was a created
character, and he knew that,
so he struggled to identify with
the successes, and he internalised
all the disappointments
and negative aspects of it.
"In the eyes of 'those who know',
"I failed badly in attempting
a piece of work which a little more
"resolution would have pushed
through, or left untouched."
This is something that's very
common in celebrity culture.
These public personas are created,
and if you don't feel connected
authentically to that public
persona, the distance grows
psychologically to the point
where you don't feel you can
take credit for the successes.
You feel like a fraud.
85 years have passed
since Lawrence met his end
in the trees at the edge of a
country road.
Lawrence's appeal endures.
He is just about the only British
soldier from the First World War who
remains a household name.
I think he's lived in the British
psyche for so long
because he represents in a funny
sort of way,
something that Englishmen have a
sneaking admiration for.
You're very brilliant,
you have some aristocracy somewhere
in your family, you're incredibly
brave, you're as hard as nails.
The myth and legend of Lawrence is
partly due to his own words.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom represents
an attempt to cleanse himself,
to put distance between himself
and his experiences.
It has never been out of print.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom is
an extraordinary book,
a very controversial book.
It turns out to be a very
reliable war memoir,
a very accurate war memoir,
if overlong and overwrought.
It's an astonishing book.
There are fantastically
wonderful passages in it, but it's
a bit shapeless in some ways,
it wanders all over the place.
However remarkable, Seven Pillars
of Wisdom could not predict
the future, and the consequences
of the post-war Middle East map
making of which Lawrence was a part.
Inevitably, his involvement in that
process has damaged his reputation.
For the Lawrences and the Churchills
after the First World War,
they are very much responsible
for creating the map.
A century of conflict,
repression and strife followed.
I think there's no real doubt,
that the outcome,
this carving up of the region
into geopolitical fragments has
proved to be a disaster
for the peace of the region
and the wellbeing
of the people of the region.
I wouldn't say they're
responsible, necessarily, though,
for the problems
of the Middle East today.
I think every generation of British
and later American policy has
a degree of responsibility
for the problems in the Middle East.
But Lawrence had been a reluctant
signatory to the post-war
carve up, in which new nations had
been conjured from little
but Imperial whim.
His plan had been different.
I think Lawrence had a cleaner
vision of a post-war Middle East,
in that he did envisage
a united independent Arab state.
I think he was unrealistic about how
that might be brought about.
His politics prevented him
from understanding the true nature
of the revolutionary transformation
that was really needed.
But nobody in the British
establishment understood
the scale of revolutionary ambition
among the people of the Middle East.
There's something much greater.
There's an intellectual
depth to this.
And the British don't fully
understand this.
They don't get what they're really
working with here,
and they don't get the ramifications
of letting it down.
This is so much bigger than this.
As a statesman, Lawrence
was most likely out of his depth.
But as a military strategist,
he was arguably ahead of his time.
We should put all our cards on the
table and say,
Lawrence didn't win the war. OK?
There wasn't a bloody great
Arab revolt.
It didn't achieve very much.
Allenby would have got there anyway.
He might be brilliant,
but he is a young man with limited
He is not making policy.
However, he would probably be
recognised today
as a significant practitioner and
theoretician of guerrilla warfare.
He did introduce an entirely new
concept in irregular warfare,
which has been adopted subsequently
by the SAS and a lot of people.
If we think about the Cuban
Revolution or the Vietnamese
Revolution or the Algerian
War of Liberation, I think Lawrence
is a genuine innovator in developing
ideas about and practising
methods of guerrilla warfare that
have stood the test of time.
However, increasingly some
historians see Lawrence's life as
playing a part in imperial
I think it's an easy story.
It's a story of, like, heroism,
somebody who sacrificed almost
himself to help another people.
This fits into this concept of
British or English exceptionalism,
you know, I mean, that they
are a people unlike anybody else.
We are missing a lot of the story
that is just simply nothing
to do with Lawrence, that has
nothing to do with him at all.
I think it says
a lot about the way British Imperial
history is written, or probably more
accurately, how it is
received in this country, that the
story of the Arab revolt, as it is
told in this country has to centre
around this white aristocratic male.
And, as a nation,
we need to engage more authentically
with our Imperial past.
But even allowing for a narrative
of ignorance, arrogance
and betrayal, there remains
something unique about Lawrence.
There's no question that Lawrence
marched to his own drum.
He's a rebel, but he's a rebel
within the establishment.
There's a great contradiction there.
But, ultimately, he was his own man.
Lawrence of Arabia the film didn't
really help his cause,
cos a lot of the Arabs thought,
"Oh, yeah, bloody British again.
Oh, they're winning everything."
Whereas, in fact, he did
give his all for them at the time.
There was absolutely no
doubt about that.
So he was honourable
and he was decent.
He did everything he could.
And people who say otherwise
have got it wrong.
In his inner core,
he was a conscientious
and decent person, who wanted to try
and do the right thing,
which is why
he was torn apart by guilt.
"I was wrapped up
in my burden in Arabia,
"and say things only through its
distorting prism.
"I did third parties wrong.
"It wasn't meant, just the
inevitable of a commander whose
"spirit was at civil war
within himself."
It's partly because of those
deep-rooted crosscurrents and
contradictions, which are central
to his character and his role,
it's partly because of that,
or perhaps mainly
because of that, that we find him
so fascinating.
This is the reason why flawed
heroes like Lawrence
remain so fascinating to us.
They sort of play out their
strengths and their dark side on
the public stage, and their courage
in trying to answer some of these
very complex questions about being
human, why you're on the planet,
that spurs us on to try
and find some resolution
in our personal stories, you know?
But we look to flawed heroes
like Lawrence to lead the way.