Queen of the Desert (film)

Queen of the Desert is a 2015 American epic biographical drama film written and directed by Werner Herzog and is based on the life of British traveller, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer and political officer Gertrude Bell.[7][8] The film follows Bell's life chronologically, from her early twenties till her death. It is Herzog's first feature film in six years after his 2009 film My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

Queen of the Desert
QOTD poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWerner Herzog
Produced by
Screenplay byWerner Herzog
Music byKlaus Badelt[3]
Mark Yaeger[4]
CinematographyPeter Zeitlinger
Edited byJoe Bini
Distributed byIFC Films
Release date
  • February 6, 2015 (2015-02-06) (Berlin)
  • April 14, 2017 (2017-04-14)
Running time
128 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$36 million[5]
Box office$2 million[6]

The film stars Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis and Robert Pattinson.[9] After going through many delays and casting problems, production finally took place from December 2013 to March 2014 in Morocco, Jordan and England. It was screened in the main competition section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival and had its premiere on February 6, 2015.[10][11] It had a theatrical release in Germany on September 3, 2015.[12]

The film received mostly negative reviews from critics and was also a major financial disappointment, grossing $2 million against a $36 million production budget.


Gertrude Bell, a daughter of wealthy British parents, has no interest in the social life of the London elite. Balls, receptions, and a life of privilege bring her only boredom. Aspiring to some usefulness in her life, Gertrude decides to join her uncle, who occupies a high diplomatic position in Tehran. There the young lady not only encounters the Near East but also falls in love with an embassy employee, Henry Cadogan. However, their romance does not last long as her parents consider the young man a poor matrimonial choice for their daughter and forbid the marriage. Desperate, Henry dies by suicide, failing to reconcile himself to the enforced separation. For the remainder of her long life Gertrude Bell completely devotes herself to exploring and writing about the Near East.




Talking about casting difficulties and delay in shooting of the film, Herzog said, "There are some actors I’d very much like to be in the film and it’s problematic to get them in the same place at the same time." Naomi Watts was originally cast in the role of Gertrude Bell but was later replaced by Nicole Kidman. Kidman, talking about her role, said, "She's the female Lawrence of Arabia. She was English, and basically defined the borders between Iraq and Jordan that exist today, borders that she negotiated between Churchill and different Arab leaders. She went out to the desert with the Bedouin and all the different tribes that were feuding at the turn of the 20th century." Jude Law was initially cast in the role of Henry Cadogan but later dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by James Franco.

Robert Pattinson and Damian Lewis joined the cast of the film as T. E. Lawrence and Charles Doughty-Wylie, respectively.[1][2][15] On casting Pattinson in the film, Herzog said that " I needed an englishman who still looks like a schoolboy but which is very smart. He plays Lawrence of Arabia, but at the age of 22, on an archeological site. Kidman, who plays the main role is wondering what that kid has to do in a place like this, and an archeologist tells her that this kid has a PhD."[16] Pattinson talking about portraying T. E. Lawrence, said that "It’s sort of close to the real guy, it’s certainly not [the film] Lawrence of Arabia-like, at the same time the guy was really small and I’m not physically kind of right for the part, but I think I have quite a good little handle of who he is. After I got cast I started researching and there are certain things you can’t do as I’m just not physically the same so I had to invent it a little bit, and it’s a small part as well. The film’s about Gertrude Bell, it’s really not about making Lawrence of Arabia."[17] Nick N. Raslan, one of the producers of the film, also appeared the film in a cameo appearance.[18]


Scenes were filmed at Merzouga, Morocco.

Principal photography began on December 20, 2013. Herzog shot background scenes and establishing shots without the principal cast in Merzouga, Morocco and Petra, Jordan.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25] Principal photography with the main cast started in Merzouga on January 13, 2014.[26][27][28] Filming also took place at Marrakesh and Erfoud and continued till February 26, 2014, in Ouarzazate, Morocco.[29][30][31] After Morocco, filming moved to London[32] and finished on March 6, 2014.[33][34][35]

A major portion of filming took place in Morocco. Fifty actors (apart from main cast), more than 1,500 extras and 65 technicians, all Moroccan, participated.[29][36]


The film premiered at 65th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2015.[10] It had a theatrical release in Germany on September 3, 2015.[12] A different cut of the film was screened at AFI Fest in November 2015.[37] Originally, Atlas Distribution Co. acquired the US distribution rights of the film and planned to have a wide release in fall 2015.[38] However, IFC Films later acquired distribution rights with a planned spring 2017 release.[39]

Promotion and marketingEdit

An official trailer was released on June 13, 2015,[40] followed by a second trailer, released a month later.[41]


Critical responseEdit

The film received mostly negative reviews from critics, but the performance of Kidman was praised. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 15% based on 59 reviews with a weighted average rating of 4.2/10 and the site's consensus: "Queen of the Desert unites some undeniably talented professionals, but it's difficult to discern what drew them together – or understand how its compelling real-life story became such a muddled mess."[42] The critical aggregator website Metacritic holds the film at a normalized score of 39 out of 100 based on 18 reviews.[43]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave the film two out of five stars, saying that "Werner Herzog’s biopic of English adventurer Gertrude Bell is impeccably mounted, competently made, entirely respectable – and a bit of a plod" and praised Kidman and Pattinson that "she (Kidman) does a perfectly reasonable job with this difficult role and she is well cast" and "Pattinson carried off this (minor) role well enough."[44] Peter Debruge of Variety called the film a "compelling but dramatically underpowered epic" and notes that "Kidman convincingly manages to play Bell as a delicate yet determined twentysomething, forging her way across untamed deserts, but still fragile enough to fall in love on two separate occasions."[45]

David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter called it "A passionless trudge that lacks both sweep and psychological complexity", but ultimately praised Kidman and Pattinson that "(Pattinson has) brief but significant appearances" and "she (Kidman) carries the film more than competently."[46] Jessica Kiang of Indiewire in her review said that ""Queen of the Desert" is such a disappointment when you consider the wild portraits of pioneers that Herzog has given us before, that he's so reverent here." And praising the cast added that "(Pattinson, out of all) of the actors not overwhelmed by the heavy sense" and "(Lewis) who handles the role of the married consul, whose amused admiration for Bell flares into love with a deftness that had us palpably relaxing during his scenes."[47]

Mark Adams of Screen International gave the film a mixed review, as he notes that "While enjoyable in parts, its episodic pacing lets down the real-life story of a bold and remarkable woman."[48] Geoffrey Macnab of The Independent said that "This is the closest Herzog has come to making a conventional Hollywood movie – what it lacks is the perversity, drive and wildness that are usually his hallmark."[49]


Year Group/Award Category Recipient Result Ref.
2015 Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear Werner Herzog Nominated [10]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d "'Homeland's Damian Lewis To Star With Nicole Kidman In 'Queen Of The Desert'". deadline.com. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Robert Pattinson Joining Naomi Watts in 'Queen of the Desert'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  3. ^ "Klaus Badelt to Score Werner Herzog's 'Queen of the Desert'". Film Music Reporter. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  4. ^ https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3133900/
  5. ^ "Kidman's life feeds her roles". au.news.yahoo. Retrieved January 4, 2014.
  6. ^ "Queen of the Desert (2016)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services, LLC. Retrieved July 18, 2016.
  7. ^ "Werner Herzog Wants to Crown Naomi Watts Queen of the Desert". vulture.com. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  8. ^ "AFM 2012: Jude Law Joining Werner Herzog's 'Queen of the Desert'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  9. ^ "Robert Pattinson Joins James Gray's 'Lost City Of Z' With Benedict Cumberbatch". blogs.indiewire. Archived from the original on December 16, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  10. ^ a b c "Jafar Panahi's New Film in Competition". berlinale.de. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
  11. ^ "Queen of the Desert". berlinale.de. Archived from the original on January 30, 2015. Retrieved January 28, 2015.
  12. ^ a b "Königin der Wüste". Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  13. ^ "Hollywood Rising Stars: Jay Abdo". Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  14. ^ "Representative of the Syrian revolution champion standing in front of Nicole Kidman". Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  15. ^ "James Franco Eyeing Werner Herzog's Gertrude Bell Pic". variety.com. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  16. ^ "WALKER – CONVERSATION WITH WERNER HERZOG". Bande à Part. Archived from the original on December 23, 2014. Retrieved December 23, 2014.
  17. ^ "Robert Pattinson interview: Twilight actor on new film Map to the Stars and 'having money for the first time'". independent.co.uk. Retrieved September 26, 2014.
  18. ^ "PHOTO: Check out the Queen of the Desert producer with some furry co-stars". Retrieved January 28, 2014.
  19. ^ "PIC: Werner Herzog Gets Busy In The Desert". Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  20. ^ ""QUEEN OF THE DESERT" LIGHTS, CAMERA IN MOROCCO". Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  21. ^ "Werner Herzog began shooting the film "Queen of the Desert" in Morocco". lemag.ma. Retrieved December 28, 2013.
  22. ^ "Fantastic NEW Pics From "Queen Of The Desert" Filming in Morocco". Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  23. ^ "Robert Pattinson begins filming 'Queen of the Desert' in Morocco next month". Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  24. ^ "Nicole Kidman depicting Queen of the Desert in Morocco and Jordan. The Syrian hero of the film". almasryalyoum.com. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  25. ^ "Damian Lewis Visits the White House and Learns Obama Watches 'Homeland'". Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  26. ^ "SET PHOTOS: 'Queen of the Desert' Movie Filming Day 1". Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  27. ^ "World of Locations: Morocco". Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  29. ^ a b "Ouarzazate: The filming of 'Queen Of The Desert' ends". Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  30. ^ "H FiLMS". Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  31. ^ "H FiLMS". Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  32. ^ "Nick Raslan – Film Producer". Twitter. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  34. ^ "The Film Stage". Twitter. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  35. ^ "Queen of the Desert producer says magic was created for the film with Werner Herzog and Nicole Kidman". Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  36. ^ "Cinema in Morocco: 22 locations and 500 million dirhams in 6 months". Retrieved July 8, 2014.
  37. ^ "Two More Galas and Seven Special Screenings Added to AFI FEST 2015". blog.afi.com. Retrieved October 25, 2015.
  38. ^ "Nicole Kidman's 'Queen of the Desert' Nabbed by Atlas Distribution". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  39. ^ McNary, Dave (November 1, 2016). "AFM: Nicole Kidman's 'Queen of the Desert' Sells to IFC". Variety. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  40. ^ "Watch: First International Trailer For Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' With Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, And More". Retrieved June 13, 2015.
  41. ^ "Watch: Epic New Trailer For Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' With Nicole Kidman, Robert Pattinson, & More". Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  42. ^ "Queen of the Desert". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved June 14, 2016.
  43. ^ "Queen of the Desert". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  44. ^ "Berlin 2015: Queen of the Desert review – a towering Nicole Kidman goes there and back again". The Guardian. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  45. ^ "Berlin Film Review: 'Queen of the Desert'". Variety. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
  46. ^ "'Queen of the Desert': Berlin Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  47. ^ "Berlin Review: Werner Herzog's 'Queen Of The Desert' Starring Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Robert Pattinson, And More". Indiewire. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  48. ^ "Queen Of The Desert". Screen International. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  49. ^ "Queen Of The Desert, review: Werner Herzog's film is like a feminist Lawrence of Arabia". The Independent. Retrieved February 7, 2015.

External linksEdit