A PREMIERE, particularly a world premiere, is an exciting event, specially for a regional theatre, so there was a predictable buzz around Poole’s Lighthouse centre for the arts as the audience and guests arrived for the world’s first veiw of the new film, Lawrence: After Arabia.
Filmed in Dorset, with many familiar views and locations featured and with many of the extras drawn from Dorset amateur dramatic societies, Mark T Griffin’s film focuses on the last weeks of the life of TE Lawrence, who at the time was working as an RAF aircraftman under the pseudonym Shaw.
The premise of the film is that Lawrence’s death in a motorcycle accident on a country road near his home at Clouds Hill was not an accident, but was directly caused by the Secret Service. He was seen as a threat to national security because of alleged involvement with Oswald Mosley and his Black Shirts. The film also suggests that Lawrence was in fact infiltrating the British fascists at the request of Winston Churchill.
There have always been questions about Lawrence’s death from injuries sustained when his beloved Brough motorcycle crashed off the road into a tree. The hero of the First World War campaigns in Arabia was known to be an expert motorcyclist.
And perhaps, like another glamorous icon who died too young in mysterious circumstances – Marilyn Munroe – there will always be speculation and nobody will ever know the truth.
Writer, director and producer Mark T Griffin (pictured) first became aware of Lawrence when he was a boy staying with his grandparents at Wareham, and saw the Lawrence of Arabia memorial in the Anglo Saxon church of St Martin’s. The story fired the youngster’s imagination and the film is the result of his many years of research.
As Griffin told the audience in the Lighthouse theatre, the film was made on a minute budget of £120,000 – compare that with the approximately £283 million cost of the new Bond film, No Time To Die. Completing a film with such a tiny budget is a tribute to the dedication of everyone involved, including actors Hugh Fraser (best known as Poirot’s friend Hastings in the ITV dramas) as General Allenby and Michael Maloney as George Brough, the designer and maker of the motorbike.
Talented Dorset actor Mark Freestone makes the most of his small but important role as the courageous Cpl Catchpole, who tells the inquest what he saw on that lonely Purbeck road – a black car that caused Lawrence to swerve just before the crash – not the evidence that there was no other vehicle on the road, which is repeated by the other witnesses.
There are some interesting insights and ideas – Lawrence was friends with Thomas Hardy and it is plausible that Hardy’s widow Florence would not only have continued the friendship but might have harboured (doomed) romantic hopes about the dashing officer.
Intriguing though it is, particularly for local audiences, Lawrence: After Arabia has a lot of problems. The sound quality, particularly at the start, is patchy – at times the wind is louder than the actors. The garish static flashbacks to Arabia are a mistake. Unnecessarily repeated shots of the lane where the accident happened become irritating and the funeral procession scene is much too long (although for fans of Moreton Tea-rooms, it was interesting to see Lawrence’s bier being used as it was intended, rather than its current role as an elegant cake-stand).
The dialogue is often clunky and unnatural and the characterisation of the two Secret Servicemen, the sinister smart one and the heavy, is frankly clichéd.
There is a potentially strong story here, with a provocative and interesting premise, but it needs considerable reworking, with a much tighter running time and sharper, more believable dialogue.
Tom Barber-Duffy makes a youthful and handsome Lawrence. and Dorset looks beautiful.
Pictured: Tom Barber-Duffy as TE Lawrence, West Country actor Mark Freestone who plays Cpl Catchpole, director-writer Mark T Griffin at the premiere at Poole.