Lawrence of Arabia (1962) Screenplay Analysis

Lawrence of Arabia (1962), written by Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, is considered one of the greatest movies in history, and in my household, it holds the #1 spot. I recently read the 268 shooting script, and it was by far the longest script I have read. In fact, I’d wager that fewer than 1,000 people have actually made it through the script in this century, although that’s just a guess.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: Undated
  • Type: Shooting
  • Page Count: 268
  • Reading Speed: Slow
  • Setting(s): England, Egypt, Arabia
  • Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple years
  • Genre(s): Biopic, Epic
  • Theme(s): Classism, Colonialism, Sexuality, Politics, Identity, War
  • Protagonist Change: Significant (debatable)

Overall Thoughts

Lawrence of Arabia is such a cinematographic classic that it seems a shame to review the screenplay. And boy, at 268 pages in old-school formatting (think lots of action paragraphs), the shooting script is a SLOG to get through. But, it’s the blueprint for perhaps my favorite film ever, so it’s worth it.

The story centers around T. E. Lawrence, who was the definition of inscrutable. Was he a hero? Tragic figure? Closeted homosexual? Brutal killer? Wannabe white savior? The answer to each of these questions depends on who you ask. But what Lawrence most definitely was, was a conflicted man who deserves broader analysis. And the 210-minute film just brushes the surface of his life.

On the screenplay itself: I noted above that it’s a long read, many times… I know. But holy heck it is. You could probably read three (maybe four or five) recent specs in the time it takes to read this. For that reason alone, it’s hard to make the argument that this is a must-read script for any screenwriter and it definitely is not a script for the newbie either.


We follow the Arab Revolt and the British’s attempt to influence it. Of course, like the Arabs, there are many factions to the British interests.


Lawrence is the star. Does he change throughout the script? Certainly, he loses hope, that’s perhaps his biggest evolution (or devolution).

Another character worth highlighting is Bentley, the journalist who at first wants to make Lawrence into an international hero on behalf of American war hawks, but is ultimately revolted by Lawrence’s brutality. By conveniently being in the right places at the right times, he brings out deeper latent opinions held by many of the leading characters. It’s a really clever way of letting the audience see into the many multilayered characters.

Dialogue & Pacing

Much of the dialogue is thematic. It seems that every line has a deeper meaning.

For example, on page 115 (43% of the way through the screenplay), Lawrence, and his aide Farraj, having just crossed the Sinai Desert, emerge at the Suez Canal. A British motorcyclist yells out from the other side, “Who are you?” five times. Farraj looks to Lawrence to answer. If you were watching the movie, you might think that Lawrence simply did not hear or was relieved to have made it through the desert. But, after reading the script, I think the true meaning of the line is that Lawrence is at a inflexion point, teetering between being an Arab and a Englishman.

The screenwriters explain each line of dialogue, and scene for that matter, ad nauseam. We learn a lot about the intentions and mood of each character simply from the drawn-out writing.

The script itself is an epic that takes place over many months (perhaps years) in WWI. There aren’t really any dull moments. It doesn’t exactly follow a Three-Act structure, and therefore there isn’t really a strong climax in the Third Act.

Emotional Impact

The extent to which this film resonates mostly has to do with how relatable Lawrence is; perhaps not necessarily how much we can personally relate to his character, but the themes and beliefs he represents. Certainly, much of his allure as a great figure trying to help a native people is inspiring, but as his mission descends into futility it’s hard not to empathize with him. How many of us have tried to help other, or watched other attempt to do so, only to find the situation no better off?

Best Part of The Script

The gutsy crossing of the Nefud Desert is truly spectacular and sets the primary theme of Lawrence as a larger-than-life figure for the rest of the screenplay. The best part of the best scene? When Lawrence goes back to save a raider who fell off his camel in the night (page 71). Ali says, “It is written,” in other words, his (the raider’s) fate is to die in the desert, to which Lawrence responds, “Nothing is written.” Then later in the screenplay we find that perhaps it was written all along.