Lawrence of Arabia
By M. Faust,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Mature teens will appreciate this gripping epic.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Despite some vagueness about the historical background of the events depicted, the movie does inspire some understanding of and respect for Arab cultures.
Positive Role Models
Lawrence initially displays curiosity and interest in Arab culture, especially in contrast to other British Army officers, who joke among themselves that Lawrence has "gone native." Lawrence also demonstrates empathy and bravery. That said, Lawrence later becomes jaded and favors self-preservation over continuing his support in the Arab uprising against Ottoman Turks.
Lawrence of Arabia holds the dubious record of being the longest film ever made with no speaking roles for women. Outdated practices such as brownface, most notably via English actor Alec Guinness playing Prince Feisal. While it's positive that actors of color like Mexican American Anthony Quinn and Indian actor I. S. Johar play supporting roles as Arab nationalists, their casting falls into the unfortunate trend in media that paints all Brown people as interchangeable. The one bright spot involves Egyptian actor Omar Sharif in the role of Sherif Ali, who pushes back against Lawrence at several points throughout the film and serves as a crucial, multilayered Arab character. On the flipside, Ottoman Turks are uniformly painted as violent villains -- a British Army officer glibly calls them "bloody savages," and no one counters him. Ultimately, Lawrence of Arabia stands as a classic example of the White savior narrative: Lawrence appears to champion Arab nationalists, even saving multiple characters single handedly which earns him effusive gratitude as they gift Lawrence his signature kaffiyeh and robes. And the only characters who die during the film are Arab or Turkish, devaluing Brown lives in contrast to those of White characters, none of whom die. While Lawrence is believed to have been queer -- he called himself "funnily made up, sexually" in a letter to gay novelist E. M. Forster and was possibly asexual -- no indication of his sexuality appears in the film. The closest the movie comes is an implied sexual assault by Ottoman Turk soldiers, an incident that was described in more depth by Lawrence in his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Did we miss something on diversity? Suggest an update.
Violence & Scariness
Several of the battle scenes are intended to horrify viewers with the brutality of war. In a scene with Turkish captors, Lawrence is beaten (with no visible wounds or blood) and, it's implied, raped -- his shirt is forcibly removed as he's held down on a bench by men, and their leader eyes him from behind a half-open door. The scene fades to black; in the next, Lawrence appears visibly agitated and huddled into himself, but this mood quickly dissipates, and the topic isn't broached again during the film.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
In an officers' bar, beers and mixed drinks are shown on tables and trays, but no one actively drinks from them.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Lawrence of Arabia is a lavish, gripping movie with a complex lead character. Beautifully filmed, it commands viewers' attention despite a length of nearly four hours. Although tame by modern standards, the battle scenes are still powerful and could frighten some kids. The story is incredibly male-centric, holding the dubious record as the longest film ever made with no speaking roles for women. And while it generally portrays Arabs with some level of neutrality, Ottoman villains are afforded no such luxury, rendered here as violent and backward. This is a classic White savior film; add to that its complexity and length, and it isn't a movie for young children. But mature teens may appreciate this visually gorgeous production.
To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Where to Watch
Based on 9 parent reviews
Amazing, Beautiful, and Worthwhile
Report this review
If there is only one film deserves to be described as Epic, it's Lawrence of Arabia!
Report this review
What's the Story?
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA chronicles the experiences of British Army intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) during the Arab Revolt, an uprising that took place during World War I between Arab nationalists and the Ottoman Turks. Early on, Lawrence gets transferred to Arabia, where he befriends Sherif Ali Ben El Kharish (Omar Sharif) and helps the Arabs. Dismissed by Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) and his British superiors, Lawrence manages to unite Feisal's faction with that of Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn). After his success, the Allies use Lawrence in order to gain Arab cooperation against the Imperial Powers.
Is It Any Good?
One of the great epics of the silver screen, this is a masterpiece of direction, photography, and acting, especially from O'Toole as the enigmatic British hero of the first World War. Movie buffs, patient teens, and their parents will enjoy settling in for almost four hours of cinematic magic. Lawrence of Arabia practically demands to be seen on the big screen. You certainly wouldn't want to watch it on a small TV: The Super Panavision widescreen format requires a particularly severe letterboxing. And even at that, it's hard to capture the impact of the famous moment when Lawrence stares at the seemingly endless desert horizon while a distant speck gradually becomes a human rider.
Lawrence does fall into some cliches, most notably as a White savior film that takes place within a Middle Eastern conflict but focuses on the heroics of a White man. But so spectacular is its cinematography and storytelling that most viewers are carried along despite a story that isn't as easy to follow now as it was in 1962, when audiences may have been more familiar with Lawrence's exploits. Similarly, the character of Lawrence will be difficult for children, as well as for many adults. He is depicted (and played brilliantly by O'Toole, in his first movie role) as a conflicted man, who was both repulsed and compelled by war and the role of a leader.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about and research together the historical basis for the movie.
Does it matter that a White actor was transformed with skin darkening pigment and Orientalist makeup in order to play an Arab character? Is it better, worse, or the same when the actor is Latino or South Asian?
Does it change your interpretation of the film knowing that T. E. Lawrence was queer? What scenes or interactions take on extra meaning, or does the entire film still read at face value?
- In theaters: December 16, 1962
- On DVD or streaming: January 1, 1999
- Cast: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Peter O'Toole
- Director: David Lean
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Classic
- Topics: Adventures, History
- Run time: 222 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Last updated: December 22, 2022
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Where to Watch
Our Editors Recommend
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate