Alas, tragedy ensues and Franco's presence, and his sort-of-English accent, is seen only for the first act (a performance that therefore seems entirely pointless). His replacement comes in the form of Damian Lewis' moustached Charles Doughty-Wylie, a British army major who almost alone sees a twinkle of the woman she would become. And despite the emphasis Herzog insists on their relationship, all they share are letters and a kiss. Another man who sees her promise is T.E. Lawrence, who's played, is seems to everyone's general astonishment, by Robert Pattinson. Pattinson isn't bad as Lawrence - he has a public school affability that eventually wins over - but the unintended consequence is that the film inevitably compares to David Lean's magnum opus.
Queen of the Desert has the note of a travelogue about it - that is to say, it feels well-travelled, but not well-lived. Places come and go, Kidman meets and greets various sheiks, none of whom resonate beyond their slot in the story. Still, Herzog makes a rather amusing case for the mere daftness of the British enterprise in Arabia, consciously or unconsciously nodding to the British Empire's responsibility for conflicts now engulfing the region. Around a table surrounded by Churchill and other war leaders, one military man epitomises this witlessness when he calls Bell a "globe-trotting, rump-waggling, blathering ass". It's a pity that we're never given even a glimpse of that.
The 65th Berlin Film Festival takes place from 5-15 February 2015. For more of our coverage, simply follow this link.
Ed Frankl | @Ed_Frankl