The gender gap in Hollywood may be something that is only now being openly discussed, but it has never really been much of a secret. While progress can be seen, slowly creeping into many genres, it is perhaps the biopic that seems to be desperately clinging on to an unconscious love of white men.
Every year, we are bombarded with tales of heroic, interesting and complex men – towering historical figures that have shaped and influenced the world we live in. In fact, if you drew your information from cinema only, you could be forgiven for believing that women have contributed very little – such is the extent of erasure on display. You might even get quite excited about the latest film from writer-director Werner Herzog, titled Queen Of The Desert.
Starring Nicole Kidman, the film tells the story of Gertrude Bell, and her fascinating life spent travelling and working as a political officer in the Middle East a century ago.
“A true story of the life of British explorer and adventurer, Gertrude Bell, Queen Of The Desert chronicles her journey of love and loss in the Middle East during the early 20th century.
“Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours) stars alongside Academy Award nominee James Franco (127 Hours), Golden Globe and Emmy winner Damian Lewis (Homeland), and Robert Pattinson (The Rover). A curious and adventurous young woman eager to explore the world outside of England, Gertrude Bell (Kidman) goes to the British Embassy in Tehran where she quickly falls in love with a secretary of the Embassy, Henry Cadogan (Franco). This sparks the beginning of a life-long adventure among the beautiful but misunderstood peoples and cultures of the Middle East. Along the way, her path intersects with archaeologist T.E Lawrence (Pattinson), also known as Lawrence Of Arabia, and Major Charles Doughty-Wylie (Lewis), the British Consul General in the Ottoman Empire.
“The story of Queen Of The Desert is based on the true-life story of Gertrude Bell, who was a political officer and archaeologist, but ultimately a trailblazer on her terms. The story details the extraordinary adventures of Bell wrestling with the conflicts of love and tragedy, enemy and friend, and foreign and familiar, as she sought to understand and unify people from different cultures.”
Hers is certainly a story that should be told, but unfortunately, this trailer suggests that Herzog may not be the right person to do it justice – legendary filmmaker though he may be. He may well deliver jaw-dropping vistas and beautiful framing, but the first warning klaxon that rings out from this preview is the dialogue.
Clearly, in any trailer, footage is edited to convey specific information in a limited space of time, but with snippets such as, “No one summons me,” and, “You have no power to stop me,” Herzog is almost shaking us by the shoulders, screaming “She’s an independent woman! Do you get it?”
This may be a refreshing change amid the continual tide of biopics that are filled with pale testosterone, but this film would simultaneously appear to be a demonstration of the fact that simply making your movie about a woman is ultimately just more of the same, if that story is still told through the standard male gaze. This is not to say that male writers are unable to accurately depict female characters – there are many examples in cinema and television of this having been done well, by writers who are able to step outside of their own world view.
In the case of this trailer, however, it would seem that the vast sum total of the experience of Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell CBE – in the fields of writing, travelling, politics, civic administration, spying, archaeology and mapping – fade in comparison to her romantic entanglements, according to Herzog. These are clearly the focus of the narrative here, which is a disappointing strategy that once again reduces a complex female character to one that is defined by the men in her life. Might the full film disprove this theory? We will find out when Queen Of The Desert gets a release date.
Source: The Playlist