With her Grace Kelly biopic Grace Of Monaco currently occupying schedule space on Lifetime like a sad flyer tacked to a community bulletin board, the mere words “historical biopic” may be enough to turn Nicole Kidman’s stomach. But she’ll have to steel up and power through, because she’ll be hearing them a lot more now that her newest picture, Werner Herzog’s Queen Of The Desert, has begun its press cycle. Just when Kidman thought she was out of the woods (which, in this instance, are full of gnarled trees hurling critical pans like so many apples), her second go at portraying a highly esteemed famous figure has taken a nosedive.
Back in February, Herzog brought his film to the Berlinale, where it lost the Golden Bear prize to Jafar Panahi’s Taxi. What’s more, however, is that the general consensus on Queen Of The Desert was none too kind. Indiewire’s Neil Young (no relation) called it “Werner Herzog’s worst movie in years” and a “disaster.” Slant Magazine’s Kenji Fujishima could only muster up indifference at best. How one of the preeminent film directors on the planet—not to mention vocal proponent of Disney World—could so thoroughly bungle a biopic of legendary cartographer, political attaché, and adventurer Gertrude Bell is beyond this writer. Perhaps the newly released trailer and its German subtitles can provide us with a clue as to what has apparently gone awry:
The trail of the tape
Title: Queen Of The Desert
Director: Werner Herzog
Screenwriter: Werner Herzog
Cast: Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis, Robert Pattinson
Release date: September 15, 2015
The entire trailer in one line of dialogue: “You are not to scare the young men with your intelligence.”
The entire trailer in one screengrab:
Herzog’s wrangled a talented cast, with Kidman and costars Damian Lewis, James Franco, and Robert Pattinson (as T.E. “of Arabia” Lawrence) forming a fine quartet of leads. To be fair, there’s no way to get an honest impression of a Herzog film from something as slight as a two-minute trailer. Even so, it looks fairly rote for a biopic. Famous figure trudges through photogenic landscape in period attire, falls in love with men sporting creative facial hair, etc. etc. Queen Of The Desert seems to be an unprecedented sort of film for Herzog—the kind that feels done before.