5 Plot Point Breakdown: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

By Xiaofeng Chen · August 11, 2015

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Screenplay Genre: War / Adventure / Epic

Movie Time: 227 minutes


In World War I, Europe is suffering with the trenches, barbed wires and Maxim machine guns. And in the Arab Peninsula, Britain is helping the Arabian rebels to fight against the Ottoman Empire.

Lieutenant Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is working in a low position in the British Army in Cairo. One day he reads in a newspaper that Prince Feisal – the leader of Arabian rebels is leading Harith to attack the Turkish stronghold Medina. (10:34) Lawrence is then called by General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and dispatched to go to evaluate the situation there.

Lawrence sets out with his Arabian guide for Wadi Safra where the Arabian rebels’ camp is located. After a long, exhausting journey, they arrive at Masturah Well – which is in Prince Feisal’s territory. While his Arabian guide is drinking the water from the well, a Harith comes and kills him, because their tribes are feuding. The man is Sheriff Ali (Omar Sharif), Prince Feisal’s man. Lawrence tells him: “So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long they be a little people, a silly people. Greedy, barbarous and cruel. ”

2. LOCK IN (End of Act One)

Lawrence arrives Prince Feisal’s camp. There is a fight between the Arabian and the Turks: planes vs horses, guns vs machetes. The Arabians can’t fight the Turks and fall back. But one man stands out and keeps charging the Turks’ planes with his war-horse and machetes: he is Prince Feisal. (40:24)

The Arabians have to retreat. Lawrence talks about the situation with Prince Feisal and an English military advisor: Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle). Colonel Brighton believes they must retreat to Yenbo. But Lawrence thinks it’s not going to prove helpful. He believes they should find a new way to fight the Turks: the Arabian’s way. He sees the key: Aqaba. A port on the coast. The Turks are holding it but their defenses are all facing toward the sea, leaving undefended from the land side. But before taking it, the attackers must first cross Nefud Desert: the desert of death. Everybody thinks it’s a mad plan but Lawrence persuades Prince Feisal to let him and Sheriff Ali go to Aqaba with fifty camel riders.

Lawrence and his men cross the Nefud Desert, weathering extreme heat and thirst. On the way, Lawrence saves an Arabian Gasim’s (I.S.Johar) life and wins the Arabian’s trust. “El Lawrence,” they call him so and look him as one of them. And his servants: two young Arabian boys Farraj (Michel Ray) and Daud (John Dimech) bring some fun to the hard journey. They finally get through the desert and meet Auda Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn): the chief of Howeitat, the tribe of fighters and brigands. Lawrence deceives the Howeitats by telling them that there is plenty of gold in Aqaba and persuades them to join in the attack.


An incident almost ruins the alliance before the attack begins: a Harith murders a Howeitat. A fight is breaking out between the two mistrusted tribes. As the only man without a tribe, Lawrence is picked to perform the execution. But he learns that the murderer is Gasem; Lawrence has to shoot the man whom he saved from Nefud desert!

The offensive begins at dawn. The Turks didn’t expect that someone would attack them from their rear flank. As such, their 12-inch guns are all facing the sea side and can’t be turned around to fight. Aqaba is soon taken by the Arabians (1:48:56).

Now they must let British Army in Cairo know that Aqaba has been taken. Lawrence and his two servants – Majid and Farraj – embark on the journey across Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. In the desert, Majid is trapped by the sliding sand. Lawrence and Farraj can’t help him and must watch him sink into the ground.

Lawrence gets to Cairo with Farraj. General Allenby can’t believe what Lawrence tells him: Aqaba has been taken! When he verifies it, he promotes Lawrence to major and sends him back to lead the Arabian War. Aqaba is used to give supplies for Arabian rebels.

With the supplies, Lawrence leads the Arabians to launch a war that the Turks have never seen: thousands of Arabian warriors with their camels and weapons are attacking the Turks everywhere. The war is turned. But soon, Lawrence finds something is wrong: the Arabians don’t think they’re fighting for their independence and freedom, but for wealth and honor. Once they get what they want, they leave. And the British also don’t want Arabians to be independent after defeating the Turks, so their support is limited as they’re trying to control the Arabians too.

In an ambush, Lawrence loses Farraj. And when he is sneaking into a town Deraa, he is captured by the Turks and then tortured and sodomized. Luckily, they didn’t find out that he was Lawrence and finally throw him to the street.

4. MAIN CULMINATION (End of Act Two)

After recovery, Lawrence decides to drive the Turks out of Arab and take Damascus. He gathers all the Arabian Tribes and marches to Damascus. In parallel, the British Army is punching the Turks. The problem is who will take Damascus first. The Arabian troops pass by a Talaal’s village, finding it ravaged by Turks; women were raped and killed. As were the children and old people. The flames of revenge are burning in the chest of every Arabian warrior. Lawrence gives the order in rage, “No prisoners!” (3:19:31) The Arabian warriors chase the Turks and kill them all.

The Arabian troops occupy Damascus before the British Army reaches the city. Lawrence presides over a Council to build an country for Arabians. But the Arabians are always quarreling with each other. And they ruin more than they construct. Power, water and telegraphs are all gone. Damascus falls into a chaos. Obviously, the Arabians are not ready to run their own country.


The British come to clear up the mess. Prince Feisal bargains with them to defend the Arabian’s rights as best he can. For Lawrence, he is promoted to colonel and kicked out of politics. Prince Feisal watches his departing figure and says: “What I owe you is beyond evaluation.” (3:39:27). Lawrence knows his mission is over and that it’s time to go home.

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