Film Review - Lawrence: After Arabia (****) 4 Star

Saturday saw the world gala premiere of the film that asks the question: was one of Britain's greatest war heroes Lawrence of Arabia (T.E. Lawrence) murdered by the British service, or did he die in a tragic motorbike accident?

To help the audience decide, the accident is shown first as an accident, and then as a murder.

However, it is clear where director/writer Mark J.T. Griffin's opinion lies - possibly the first state-sponsored murder by the British Secret Service, and certainly not the last. To this day, MI5 agents in the UK are legally allowed to commit murder while on duty.

T.E. Lawrence is portrayed by Tom Barber Duffy as a broken hero, who has flashbacks to his time in Arabia, suffers from PTSD, retires from the RAF and tries to live in seclusion, but is hounded by the press.

He forms a close bond with Florence Hardy, played by Celia Muir, whose feelings for him he cannot reciprocate and who warns him of the potential dangers of his actions.

The crash is graphically portrayed, and the key witnesses are forced by Secret Service agents Crichton (Rick Savery) and Tyrell (Steve Rollins) to reconcile their stories or face the consequences. Tyrell is played by Steve Rollins as if he were enjoying the destruction of a hero and almost balancing on the edge of insanity, literally waltzing to the spot where Lawrence's coffin lies covered with a flag.

Mark Vernon Freestone gives a strong portrayal of Corporal Catchpole, who witnesses the crash and faces the consequences of sticking to his testimony.

The stars are used sparingly - Brian Cox (Succession, Bourne) as narrator and also as the voice of Lawrence's father, Hugh Fraser (Sharpe, Poirot) as Lord Allenby, Michael Maloney (The Crown, Trail of Christine Keeler) as George Brough.

Nicole Ansari Cox stands out as a ruthless Sarah Lawrence, Lawrence's domineering mother.

The soundtrack by Clifford White is very strong and also includes specially written pieces for the film by keyboard genius Rick Wakeman.

The end title track "After Arabia", sung by Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann's Earthband), is a sing-along anthem.

The film has won several awards at various film festivals, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Soundtrack, and the production values defy the small budget. The film makes use of valuable Brough Superior motorbikes, vintage aircraft, and locations that Lawrence would have known, including his own home.

The screening ended following a crafty “Easter egg” – with a five minutes standing ovation showing that the audience clearly enjoyed the film.

The film is an impressive debut by Mark J.T. Griffin, whose passion is evident in the film. Let's hope that, with premiere, the film gets the wider theatrical distribution it deserves.

*Lawrence After Arabia can be seen on Friday, October 15, Digby Hall, Sherborne; Tuesday, October 19, Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis; Wednesday, October 20, Moreton Village Hall (afternoon screening) and Friday, October 22, Electric Palace, Bridport. There will be another screening at Moreton Village Hall on Thursday, November 11.

Go to the website for tickets.