Small? Little? Be buggered! At 216 minutes this is 17 minutes longer than The Return of the King, and 22 minutes longer than Titanic. Directed by the great English director, David Lean, it is a massive film in scope, length, and width (filmed as it was on a ratio of 2.35:1).
The film tells the story of T.E Lawrence during WWI and his efforts to unite the Arabs against the Turks. In the process he becomes a living legend, goes mad, regains his senses (somewhat) and ends disillusioned by the results of his efforts.
Such a quick summary belies the breadth of vision of screen writer Robert Bolt and Lean. The film attempts to question British colonialism, prefigure the role of the modern media, examine Arabic politics and also show some of the best battle scenes ever put on celluloid.
What strikes you when watching the film today (best done on a very lazy Sunday) is how different the pace of the film is compared with today's films. There is no rush in this film. The film ignores the screenwriting axiom of entering the scene as late as possible - instead the camera watches events unfold in their entirety.
It is intoxicating, if it must be admitted somewhat disconcerting to the modern viewer. We have become so impatient that we seemingly don't want to wait for anything on the screen. Why watch someone ride a camel? Is he doing anything? Yeah the sand dunes are nice, but is anyone shooting anyone? Is anyone talking? Is anything happening?
This is film as art as much as storytelling. A film where you drink in the vision as much as you listen to the dialogue. It is a film which like a long novel asks you to commit some time, and rewards your effort with something unlike anything else you will have seen.
Everyone in the cast does almost the best work of their careers: Peter O'Toole (lost the Oscar to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird) is incredible - he is in almost every scene and had he been only slightly less good, the entire film would be horrible; Alec Guinness is in virtual Obi Wan Kenobi mode, but still great to watch, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins and on and on. All great, all relishing the big screen.
The oddest thing about the film, is the subject. While the events are great to watch, in reality the Arabian campaign was a side show of WWI (even the film acknowledges this fact). It's hardly where one would expect a great figure would be found.
Whether or not Lawrence was a great figure or merely a man who knew how to make the most of publicity I don't know. But he certainly is the subject of a great film.
The below scene is a perfect example of the pacing of the film - and is also a classic of cinema.
T.E. Lawrence: I killed two people. One was... yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was... well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn't like.
General Allenby: That's to be expected.
T.E. Lawrence: No, something else.
General Allenby: Well, then let it be a lesson.
T.E. Lawrence: No... something else.
General Allenby: What then?
T.E. Lawrence: I enjoyed it.