It's rather confounding that one of the world's boldest, most curious filmmakers could take a bold, curious subject like Gertrude Bell and make such a dull, inert (if pretty) movie about her. But Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert sat, unreleased, for two years after poor early reviews, and it's easy to see why. In spite of the talented cast, Herzog's great eye for outdoor compositions, lush widescreen cinematography, and a dreamy score -- perhaps in an effort to recall the story's close cousin, Lawrence of Arabia -- the movie simply doesn't move.
Bell is painted as a fearless, endlessly curious woman, and it's difficult not to admire her, but aside from getting her heart broken by two clueless men, not much of consequence happens to her from scene to scene. In one sequence, she's held prisoner for several weeks at the whim of an Emir, but she doesn't look any the worse for wear after she gives him a withering comment and walks out. Many scenes are set up -- in one, she receives a magnificent "stolen" horse as a gift -- and then dropped (she trades it for camels, offscreen, with no drama or consequences). Perhaps someday, Ms. Bell will receive a movie worthy of her legacy.