A NEW film telling the story of Wearside’s answer to Lara Croft has won the approval of the woman who knows her best.
Queen Of The Desert stars Nicole Kidman as Washington-born Gertrude Bell, the woman who worked with Lawrence of Arabia during First World War and played a critical role in shaping the modern Middle East.
Directed by Werner Herzog, the movie also stars Twlight’s Robert Pattinson as Lawrence; James Franco as Viscount Chelsea, Henry Arthur Cadogan; and Homeland’s Damien Lewis as Major Charles Doughty-Wylie, the married man with whom Gertrude had an unconsummated affair and who is believed to be the reason she never married.
Jan Long has been fascinated by Gertrude’s story for years and led the campaign to get a blue plaque in her memory at Gertrude’s family home, Dame Margaret Hall.
She was part of an invited audience at a private screening of the movie in London, at which Gertrude’s great-nephew Mark Bell spoke about living in the family homes that were inhabited by his most famous relation.
Jan gave the new movie the thumbs-up, despite then fact it takes a few liberties with the actual history.
I am thrilled that this film will at last catapult Gertrude Bell into the limelight and out of the shadows.Jan Hall, campaigner for Gertrude Bell
“London was great fun and it was good to meet so many people with an interest in Gertrude Bell and, of course, Werner Herzog productions,” she said.
“As for the film, it was visually stunning with wonderful landscapes and lavishly detailed costumes.
“The soundtrack, coupled with the most amazingly haunting musical score, could not be faulted.”
Jan was full of praise for the woman charged with bringing her heroine to life: “Nicole Kidman shone and gave a very credible performance of how we imagine Gertrude to have been,” she said.
“For those wanting to see a great love story and an extraordinary woman, this gorgeous film fits the bill exactly.
“However, for the scholars amongst us, there were liberties taken with the chronology and some factual content.
“That said, I am thrilled that this film will at last catapult Gertrude Bell into the limelight and out of the shadows.”
Gertrude smoked heavily, often rolling her own cigarettes, which she kept in a beautifully-inscribed silver case bearing the name “Gertrude (Margaret Lothian) Bell”.
Jan is now the proud owner of the case, which Gertrude used throughout her desert and world travels.
She is unsure of the date and maker of the case and hopes a local jeweller or silversmith will be able to shed some light on its provenance, in order to solve the mystery of who presented it to Gertrude.
Who was Gertrude Bell?
GERTRUDE Bell was born in July 1868 in Washington Hall (later known as Dame Margaret Hall), the granddaughter of industrialist Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell and daughter of Sir Hugh Bell, who spent three spells as Mayor of Middlesbrough.
She was educated at Queen’s College and went on to study history at Oxford University, receiving a first class honours degree in two years.
After graduation, she travelled to Tehran to visit her uncle Sir Frank Lascelles, who was the equivalent of British ambassador in Persia.
She spent much of the next decade travelling the world, during which time she became passionately interested in archaeology and fluent in Arabic, Persian, French and German as well as also speaking Italian and Turkish.
She returned to the Middle East in 1899 and travelled repeatedly across the region in the following years.
In her book Syria: The Desert and the Sown, published in 1907, she described visits to the likes of Damascus, Jerusalem, Beirut and Alexandretta.
In 1909 she visited Carchemish, where she first met Lawrence. The pair were reunited in Cairo in November 1915, by which time they were both working for British intelligence.
Gertrude became the only female political officer in the British forces and in 1917 was given the title of “Oriental Secretary”.
She and Lawrence were among a group of experts convened by Winston Churchill in 1921 to determine the borders of British power and establish the borders of such new countries as Iraq.
Gertrude was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her work in the region.
Gertrude Bell died of an overdose of sleeping pills in July 1926, though it is unclear whether it was deliberate.
She was buried in the British cemetery in Baghdad, her funeral attended by hundreds of people.