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David Lean's 1962 film "Lawrence of Arabia" is considered by many to be among the greatest films of all time, and I must admit that it is among my favorite films. Peter O'Toole's performance as T.E. Lawrence was phenomenal, and the film had spectacular scenery, a wonderful soundtrack, and epic action (the effects are surprisingly convincing for a film that is so old). While the portrayal of the Arab characters is stereotypical, in much the same way as in the first and third Indiana Jones films, they still display great heroism in their own right. Furthermore, the stereotyping is applied to the British as well, who are portrayed in the film as greedy, tea-sipping imperialists. This all helps make the film seem much less dated to me than it might otherwise have become in the decades since its initial release. In fact, Lawrence's divided loyalties between the British Empire and his new Arab friends add an element of depth to what is otherwise essentially an action/ adventure film.

Nevertheless, there are still a number of huge inaccuracies in this immensely entertaining retelling of the 1917 Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

1. The bulk of the forces of the 1917 Arab Revolt were not the guerrillas fighting in a traditional Bedouin manner as portrayed in the film. Most of them used captured Ottoman Turkish weapons, as well as weapons supplied by the British and the French. They would have worn uniforms similar to the British Army at the time, which is what I have always seen in historical photographs of them, and fought in conventional modern battles. Note the Pan-Arab nationalist flag in this photograph using what would later become the color scheme of the flags of many Middle Eastern nations today (the pattern is particularly similar to the flag of the Palestinian Authority).

The flag of the 1917 Arab Revolt in technicolor...

2. T.E. Lawrence was not the only liaison between the Arab Revolt and the British. Far from it, in fact. There were numerous British and French officers in regular contact with the leaders of the Arab Revolt, many of them already involved before Lawrence.

3. T.E. Lawrence was portrayed as a glory-seeking egotist in the film, but still with a sense of honor and wanting to keep his word. The real T.E. Lawrence was a glory-seeking egotist, and without a sense of honor or any desire to keep his word.

You see, the British and the French knew the Ottoman Empire was dying, and they decided that it would be a good idea to arbitrarily split it up among themselves, and with no respect to preexisting boundaries (the boundaries they decided upon still cause conflicts in the Middle East today). In 1916, they drafted the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

Eventually, the secret documents were discovered, and they were leaked by a Russian newspaper after the Russian Revolution. However, by then it was already too late. The Sykes-Picot Agreement went into effect after the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923.

In the film, T.E. Lawrence is portrayed as not knowing about the Sykes-Picot Agreement until the end when it is too late, whereas in real life he knew about it all along. That makes him seem more like a double-crossing bastard than a big damn hero to me.

There are other inaccuracies, such as the dates not matching up to the events portrayed in the film, many of the details involving the attack on Aqaba, and the idea of attacking the Hejaz Railway being credited to T.E. Lawrence. I still enjoy this film a lot, but it is far from a true story.

Update: Read the comments. Further research has changed my opinion on this man, so you too should learn all of the facts and make your own conclusions about him.
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Wertyla Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2016  Professional Photographer
Wow. I think this movie was recommended to me once by my parents... We watch old movies together frequently. I've been meaning to see this, but haven't found it on TV yet. It's good to have the historical inaccuracies pointed out to me ahead of time, though, since I like knowing the facts and none of this was taught in school. (In fact, American schools now seem to teach an absolutely pitiful amount of history... So much is left out, and most students have trouble grasping the little information that IS covered.)
ClockworkMultiverse Featured By Owner Edited Jun 6, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
I should point out that, having learned more about T.E. Lawrence since I wrote this journal, he actually was not a "double-crossing bastard". It seems he really was interested in learning about the culture of the Bedouin, and he truly believed that the Sykes-Picot agreement would have to be renegotiated if the Arab Revolt won enough victories to gain international attention. A major inaccuracy I forgot to mention is that T.E. Lawrence is portrayed as enjoying committing acts of violence in the film, whereas he hated it in real life.

T.E. Lawrence is also among the inspirations for Indiana Jones, as he was working as an archaeologist in the Levant prior to WW1. After the start of the conflict, he was recruited as a spy by the British due to his knowledge of the geography and cultures of the region. This is a man who I can identify with, and whose passion for history inadvertently made history.
Wertyla Featured By Owner Jun 6, 2016  Professional Photographer
It must feel great to a historian to discover that they've made history themselves! Anyway, I can't really form an opinion on T.E. Lawrence one way or the other, since I know nothing about him anyway. He sounds like he's worth researching!
ClockworkMultiverse Featured By Owner Jun 7, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
It is also worth noting that the descendants of Emir Faisal (the King portrayed in the movie) are the current royal family in Jordan.
Wertyla Featured By Owner Jun 7, 2016  Professional Photographer
That's interesting!
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Submitted on
April 10, 2016


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