During the First World War, a British officer succeeds in uniting the Arab tribes and goes to war against the occupying Turkish army.
Grand in every sense, David Lean's film is an example of an established director full of confidence and ambition. Nearly four hours long, several years in the making, and complete with an interval and its own overture, "Lawrence of Arabia" aims for greatness and achieves it.
An illuminating, intelligent script by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, based in part on Lawrence's wartime recollections, reveals the soldier as a tormented, sado-masochist with repressed homosexual urges who perceives himself as a warrior-king. Peter O'Toole, then the new boy among international stars (including Alec Guinness as a shrewd Prince Feisal and Jack Hawkins as the calculating General Allenby) gives his best ever performance as the enigmatic Lawrence. That other star of the film - the desert - is so magnificently captured in all its endless immensity that you'll find sand between your toes when you take your socks off.
The screenplay, FA Young's quite stunning 70mm photography, John Box's art direction, David Lean's direction, and numerous others were all rewarded at the Oscars. Despite this, and its tremendous box office, the film suffered numerous cuts at the hands of producer Sam Spiegel, and the master negative was left to rot over the years. It was rescued, fully restored, and re-released to acclaim in 1989.
In a final exchange of the film, Prince Feisal remarks to General Allenby, "You are merely a General. I must be a King." One gets the impression this was how Lean saw both his film and his reputation as a director, and he might not have been wrong.