“Far more at ease in Tehran than England, Gertude Lowthian Bell (Nicole Kidman) allows herself to be politely seduced by embassy secretary Henry Cadogan (James Franco, looking tired but charming, and acting almost entirely with his eyebrows). Their courtship is the stuff of Merchant Ivory movies, complete with scenic marriage proposal and an old Macedonian coin split in two for the lovers to remember one another by, though Bell’s father refuses to give his blessing, spelling tragedy for the couple.
“At the next stop on her travels, she encounters a young T.E. Lawrence (a consternated-looking Robert Pattinson, who, like Franco, elicited laughs in Berlin when he first appeared onscreen). Though she clearly makes a strong impression on every man she meets, he surprises her by asking, ‘Gertie, will you please not marry me?’
“For director Werner Herzog, this proposal opens up a different set of opportunities to them both: They would be reunited more than a decade later by Winston Churchill to advise Britain on how to handle the country’s colonial stake in the Ottoman Empire. But in the meantime, being unattached allowed each to travel wherever their curiosity might lead. Of course, Lawrence’s exploits have been well documented, most famously by David Lean, while Bell’s have been largely overlooked on film, making this a long-overdue if somewhat under-dramatized chance to boost her historical profile.
“As it happens, Lawrence and Bell were once featured in an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, advising young Indy against a life in diplomacy (where Bell helped to make her mark). For audiences who’ve come to associate Jones’ B-movie adventure-hero exploits with archaeology, however, Bell’s life will surely seem somewhat less exciting — which is unfortunate, since it would be hard to find a more exciting life among Bell’s contemporaries if you looked. And Herzog has looked.” — from a Berlinale Variety review by Peter Debruge.