You are here

The Making of Lawrence of Arabia

5 November 2009
Lawrence of Arabia Journal winter 1962/63.BAFTA Archive

We open-up the pages of a 1962 Academy Journal dedicated to Lawrence of Arabia, and explore Lean’s epic production with the crew who made it happen.

Originally released in 1962, David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia has cemented its place in history as one of the cinema’s masterpieces. With some of the most iconic scenes in film history, the production was epic in both the scale of Lean’s ambition and the size of the finished film: its original running time stood at 210 minutes.

Lawrence of Arabia won both critical and popular acclaim on its release, receiving five SFTA nominations in 1963 and scooping Awards for British Actor (Peter O’Toole), British Film, British Screenplay (Robert Bolt) and Film From Any Source. In the same year, the film notched-up ten Oscar nominations, winning in seven categories including Best Director. In 2007, the Academy’s 60th anniversary year, the membership voted Lawrence of Arabia their favourite film of all time.

The quarterly Journal above was published in Winter 1962-63 and offers a fascinating insight into the film’s creation. As its introduction explains:

“This is the first time a complete issue of the JOURNAL has given an account of the thought and work that has been put into a single film … Quite apart from the imaginative enterprise and exceptional degree of organisation involved, the making of Lawrence of Arabia presented every responsible person in the unit with unusual problems, not least of which was the kind of interpretation to be given to the hero.”

Alongside original scene sketches and on-set photographs, the journal contains contributions from the film’s major figures including screen writer Robert Bolt, production designer John Box, photographer F. A. Young, film editor Anne V. Coates and the director himself, David Lean. They discuss their experiences of making the film including the technical difficulties of working in the desert, shooting and editing for the first time in Panavision 70mm, and creating a tracking shot of a camel.

In addition, lead actor Peter O’Toole explains how approached portraying the enigmatic figure Thomas Edward Lawrence: “He is a man in search of himself; he hates being nothing, and he turns instinctively in a direction where his intuition tells him he may at last discover himself.” Director David Lean saw O’Toole’s portrayal as “the major challenge of this film” and he was determined “to get the sheer genius of Lawrence across convincingly, to see him fully in his human relationships.”

Read more of the Journal for further insights into the making of this award-winning and truly superlative film.