One of cinema's great epics, Lawrence of Arabia's 4k restoration heads to the BFI London Film Festival before its November theatrical re-release through Park Circus.
It's been 50 years since David Lean's masterpiece first wowed audiences, but watching this sublime digitally cleaned-up director's cut, you could easily believe it was filmed yesterday. Shot in Super 70 Panavision, Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young's breathtaking use of desert locations in Morocco help draw you into the world of TE Lawrence and his role in the Arab Revolt against the Turks. A scene where Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) emerges from the desert haze to kill Lawrence's guide is probably one of the most beautiful sequences ever committed to celluloid.
At the heart of it all is Peter O'Toole as the eccentric lieutenant who finds his loyalty to the British army tested as he goes native with Bedouin tribes. The role was originally earmarked for Albert Finney, who turned the part down after going through an elaborate and pricey screen test, but it's impossible to envision anyone other than O'Toole bringing this character to life.
In truth, it's a downright kooky performance when compared with modern-day cinematic heroes. His Lawrence is egotistical, masochistic and fey, an unconventional man who finds a new sense of self fighting in the Arab desert. O'Toole, all piercing blue eyes and steadfast idealism, buzzes with charisma in the role of a lifetime. He's backed up by a stellar supporting cast, too, with Sharif, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains and Jack Hawkins all excellent.
One of Lawrence's biggest fans is Steven Spielberg, and it's clear to see the influence it's had on the filmmaker. From the sweeping vistas to rousing John Williams themes that owe a debt to Maurice Jarre's iconic score, Spielberg is one of Lean's greatest students. The director's influence is also evident in the work of Joe Wright (Anna Karenina) and Michael Fassbender's portrayal of android David in Prometheus.
What makes Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen all the more special is how watching it becomes an event. A four-minute musical intro bursts out before the curtains are drawn and a short intermission features more of Jarre's sublime score. All this, alongside the near four-hour running time, make this an experience you won't forget in a hurry. They really don't make them like this anymore.
Photo gallery - Peter O'Toole's career in pictures: