German director Werner Herzog has always teetered on the precipice of mainstream celebrity, his documentaries Grizzly Man and Into The Abyss reaching a wider audience than his equally enigmatic (but lesser-seen) fictional films such as Fitzcarraldo and Rescue Dawn. His most recent film, Queen of the Desert, looks like it might just have enough star power and universal interest to bring in a larger audience that past Herzog projects managed.
Based on the story of real-life British explorer Gertrude Bell, Queen Of The Desert has nothing to do with high-camp musicals and everything to do with Lawrence Of Arabia. Set during the same era as the David Lean classic, Queen Of The Desert casts T.E. Lawrence in a supporting role (played by Robert Pattinson) with the true star being Nicole Kidman as Bell, the woman who played an integral role in the foundation of the modern Middle East.
A new trailer for Queen of the Desert has been released, following its premiere at the 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February, and it certainly looks like one of Herzog's most lavish productions yet. Like Lawrence Of Arabia, Queen Of The Desert was shot mostly on location, making for plenty of sweeping sandy vistas. Along with Kidman and Pattinson, the main cast is complete with James Franco as Bell's lover Henry Cadogan, and Damian Lewis as fellow suitor Charles Doughty-Wylie.
Queen Of The Desert isn't the only time Herzog's worked with big name stars, of course; Christian Bale starred in Rescue Dawn and Nicolas Cage's manic energy actually worked for Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans. It's also not the only time he's been inspired by a previous iconic film (Nosferatu) or mythic true story (Fitzcarraldo). However, this is the first time Herzog has worked with many of these actors, though - and considering how Nicole Kidman's last desert-based epic Australia ended up, some skepticism is understandable.
Queen of the Desert's production values seem pretty high (the filmmakers hired a lot of extras to toast the future of the British Empire at one ironically amusing moment), but the trailer itself is a little cheap and shoddy. Unfortunately, it sounds like that may be reflected in the finished film, as early reviews have not been so encouraging - with Variety's Peter Debuge calling Queen of the Desert a "compelling but dramatically underpowered epic," while THR's David Rooney says that the movie is "a passionless trudge that lacks both sweep and psychological complexity."
Gertrude Bell's story is one worthy of telling, though (regardless of who's playing her), and Herzog being on scripting duties (as well as directing) suggests that Queen of the Desert may yet honor her stunning life story. We'll see how the general critical reaction changes in the forthcoming months (and, of course, how the moviegoing public responds, by comparison).
Queen Of The Desert opens in U.S. theaters on September 15th, 2015.
Source: Atlas Distribution