BERLIN, Feb 6, 2015 (AFP) – Nicole Kidman learned to ride a camel and brave a sandstorm for her role as real-life British adventurer Gertrude Bell in the Berlin film festival contender “Queen of the Desert”, premiering Friday.
The film, directed by German veteran Werner Herzog and co-starring Robert Pattinson, James Franco and Damian Lewis, is one of 19 competition contenders at the Berlinale and drew a mixed reception at a press preview.
Kidman said she had previously been unaware of Bell, who helped redraw the map of the Middle East as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling based on intelligence she gathered during extensive travels with Bedouin tribes.
“She was such an important part of that history,” Kidman, 47, told reporters. “We talk about Lawrence of Arabia and we’ve never heard of Gertrude Bell. That’s one of the great things — being allowed to bring her name to the forefront.”
The 72-year-old Herzog, known for documentaries such as “Grizzly Man” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and early classics such as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcaraldo”, admitted it was his first film with a woman at its heart.
“I think I should have done films that have a female protagonist much earlier in my life,” he said. “I’m glad that finally this discovery came to me. I’m glad that it happened and I shall continue.”
The film tracks Bell from her graduation from Oxford to her first forays into the Muslim world, when she takes a job at the British embassy in Tehran.
She discovers a passion for new lands and peoples, learning to translate Farsi poetry with the help of a dashing young diplomat played by Franco.
Bell later moves to the Middle East, where she crosses paths with T.E. Lawrence (Pattinson), eventually becoming a “kingmaker” among tribal leaders for the British as they created new countries from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire with the stroke of a pen.