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Who is Gertrude Bell? Find out with stunning new film


A new film on Gertrude Bell; archaeologist, writer, spy and diplomat opens today throughout the UK. Letters from Baghdad tells the extraordinary and dramatic story of one of the most powerful woman in the British Empire in her day. She shaped the destiny of Iraq after World War I in ways that still reverberate today and was far more influential than her friend and colleague Lawrence of Arabia. So why have so few people heard of her?


Letters From Baghdad is the story of a true original - Gertrude Bell - sometimes called the ‘female’ Lawrence of Arabia. Voiced and executively produced by Academy award winning actor Tilda Swinton, the film tells the dramatic story of this British spy, explorer and political powerhouse.

Bell travelled widely in Arabia before being recruited by British military intelligence during WWI to help draw the borders of Iraq and as a result helped shape the modern Middle East. Using stunning, never-seen-before footage of the region, the film chronicles her extraordinary journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and the inner sanctum of British colonial power.


What makes the film stand apart is that the story is told entirely in the words of Gertrude Bell and her contemporaries, excerpted from their intimate letters, private diaries and official documents. It is a unique look at both a remarkable woman and the tangled history of Iraq. The film takes us into a past that is eerily current.

Directed lovingly by Sabine Krayenbühl & Zeva Oelbaum, their mission has been to restore Bell to her rightful place in history. Having travelled extensively in the Middle East, they had been captivated by Janet Wallach’s biography of Bell, Desert Queen. They learned to their astonishment that while T.E. Lawrence was a well known figure as Lawrence of Arabia, the women who had been far more powerful than him, in fact one of the most powerful women in the British Empire at the time, had been largely forgotten.

But Bell had left over 1600 letters and thousands of black and white photographs which inspired Kravenhuhl and Oelbaum and transported them to the vibrant Middle East that Bell had loved. They wanted the letters to form the core element of the film, and it was an inspired choice. The letters bring Bell to life and together with the stunning archival footage discovered languishing in many vaults around the world, we are transported back in time.

Krayenbuhl says that ‘Gertrude Bell has inspired us for more than four years, and we hope that her story will continue to inspire others. Women and girls from every part of the world need to know the story of Gertrude Bell. Her willingness to break with the conventions of her day and her courage, both physical and emotional are an inspiration. She is an example of how one person can make a difference.”


Bell at the Cairo Conference in 1921 with Winston Churchill and Lawrence where the future of the ME was planned

Oelbauym adds “Gertrude Bell gave her heart and soul to Iraq, working to get the British to fulfill their promise of Arab self-determination. She believed that the preservation of antiquities and ancient sites was a crucial priority and established the Iraq Museum, which was infamously ransacked in 2003. She overcame numerous heartbreaks along the way, but always kept clear-eyed about what she felt she could contribute to her adopted country.”

This is a beautiful, thought provoking film which brings to life the story of a woman who made history, and whose story should be known by everyone. This is one film not to be missed!


Where you can see it:

Abbeygate, Picturehouse (From 16/05/2017)

Birmingham, MAC (From 21/05/2017 )

Brighton, Duke Of York's (From 21/04/2017)

Bristol, Watershed (From 21/04/2017)

Cambridge, Arts Picturehouse (From 28/04/2017 )

Canterbury, Gulbenkian (From 13/05/2017)

Chester, Storyhouse Cinema (From 14/05/2017)

Dartington, Barn Cinema (From 05/05/2017)

Dundee, DCA (From 01/05/2017)

Exeter, Picturehouse (From 15/05/2017 )

Glasgow Film Theatre (From 25/04/2017)

Hebden Bridge, Picturehouse (From 17/05/2017 )

Hereford, The Courtyard (From 15/05/2017)

Ipswich Film Theatre (From 24/05/2017 )

Leicester, Phoenix Square (From 19/05/2017)

Liverpool, Picturehouse @ FACT (From 21/04/2017 )

London, Curzon Bloomsbury - Bertha DocHouse (From 21/04/2017)

London, Curzon Bloomsbury - Bertha DocHouse - Director Intro & Q&A (From 21/04/2017)

London, Curzon Soho (From 27/04/2017)

London, Finchley JW3 (From 30/04/2017)

London, Lexi Kensal Rise (From 30/04/2017)

London, Picturehouse Central (From 21/04/2017)

Manchester HOME (From 21/04/2017)

Newcastle, Tyneside Cinema (From 21/04/2017)

Newcastle, Tyneside Cinema - Director Intro and Q&A (From 22/04/2017 )

Northampton, Errol Flynn Filmhouse (From 15/05/2017)

Norwich, Cinema City (From 22/05/2017 )

Oxford, Phoenix Picturehouse - Director Into and Q&A (From 23/04/2017 )

Oxford, Phoenix Picturehouse (From 21/04/2017)

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