Great Characters Wiki
Great Characters Wiki

"He was the most extraordinary man I ever knew." ― Harry Brighton referring to Lawrence.

"It was my privilege to know him and to make him known to the world. He was a poet, a scholar, and a mighty warrior. ... He was also the most shameless exhibitionist since Barnum and Bailey." ― Jackson Bentley's views on T.E. Lawrence.

Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Colonel T.E. Lawrence or just T.E. Lawrence is the titular protagonist of the 1962 epic film Lawrence of Arabia. He's the heroic, contradictory, uncrowned King of Arabia as well as a solitary, masochistic adventurer who paradoxically wanted to be both extraordinary and ordinary. He's also an illegitimate child to his parents.

He was portrayed by Peter O'Toole in his first starring role.

Why He Rocks

  1. Peter O'Toole absolutely hits the ground running in his grand debut in a starring role with his charisma and compelling role. His mannerisms suggest the character's ambivalence about nearly everything - his sexuality, his station in life, his place in the world, etc.
  2. Amazing character development: The film is played out in five important marks, each one of which represents a different part of Lawrence's psyche. The scenes are all essential to the development of his persona. The question is raised of just who Lawrence was, but it's never properly answered.
    • The first mark is Lawrence's introduction into Bedouin territory where he's an idealistic, carefree, optimistic Englishman who's an outcast yearning for adventure. He's innocent and a very polite man who was calm and civil to most of his allies. He's introduced to Sherif Ali by him murdering Bedouin guide Tafas, introducing the major complication of tribal feuds to Lawrence’s objective goal. Though he shows sympathy with Prince Feisal's views and admiration fighting spirit of the Arab tribes, while also keeping up his optimism and free-spirited nature.
    • The second mark concerns his trek across the Nefud Desert and subsequent attack on Aqaba where he believes himself to be capable of anything - a demi-god in Arab clothing. He halts his long journey across the harsh desert to go back for one of his men who had disappeared and bring him back, earning the Arabs' trust and respect. On the eve of the attack, an argument breaks out between two Bedouin tribes as a man from one tribe killed a man from another, so Lawrence agrees to act as a mediator and execute the murderer, but when said murderer turns out to be the same man he risked his life to save in the desert, he's left having to kill him, but ends up enjoying it much to his surprise and horror. Then later on, we find out just how deeply shaken he is when back at the British headquarters in Cairo, he admits he had to kill a man and there was something about it he didn't like, which slowly began his turn to darkness as he began to question his own identity.
    • The third mark is where Lawrence is at the top of his game in terms of the Turk raid, slaughtering and stealing from the Turks and getting pretty prideful and arrogant as a result, feeling pretty much invincible, to the point where he foolishly chose to enter the Turkish controlled city of Deraa with his small handful of Arab soldiers against the entire Turkish garrison. This eventually leads to his capture and torture at the hands of the Turks in Deraa where he slowly morphs into a bitter, self-doubting man, thirsting for revenge.
    • The fourth mark concerns his comeback, revenge and both his greatest and most flawed accomplishment: the slaughter of Turks at Tafas and the liberation of Damascus. At which he screams out the command, "No prisoners!", and, when it's all over, he is seen drenched in blood -- a complete 180 from his once pacifist nature.
    • And the fifth mark concerns his victory at Damascus as he becomes redundant not to long afterward, and leaves for England while the politicians sort things out.
  3. The film takes advantage of its 3 1/2 hour runtime and uses the battles as a backdrop for a character study, dissecting Lawrence's fluid, often-contradictory personality. Aside from the character arc mentioned in the previous pointer. He's had a powerful friendship with Sherif Ali, and as the Arabs willingly adopt him as their leader, despite being white, he's got an opportunity to prove himself as a worthy leader, and from the torture from the Turks, he's definitely toughened enough and get to show his dark side.
  4. Prior to his turn to darkness, he was a bold, considerate and thoughtful man who was smooth, calm, fearless, and defined in his belief of mind over matter as shown with the famous match scene and how he often summits himself to unnecessary pain. Then there's the initial interactions with Ali where he's shown to have a fear of bloodshed and would rather wander alone at his own risk than work with a fierce murderer. And there's even the fact that he was willing to halt his long journey across the harsh desert to go back for one of his men who had disappeared and bring him back, knowing the risks if he did so.
  5. With his peculiar speech and manner as a major factor, this take in Lawrence combined charisma and craziness, and is very different from conventional military heroes, so much that he had inspired the Arabs to follow him in that mad march across the desert. He's able to unite various desert factions, because he is so obviously an outsider that he cannot even understand, let alone take sides with, the various ancient rivalries; and because he is able to show the Arabs that it is in their own self-interest to join the war against the Turks.
  6. That being said, despite being seen as a beacon of hope for the Arabs, the film still destructs his abilities. At first, he impresses the Arabs and is made one of their leaders. However it gradually becomes apparent that Lawrence doesn't really understand their culture, their motivations, or their problems, nor does he fully want to. He vastly overrates his own abilities to inspire and unite them, often conducts actions that compromise and complicate the moderate elements within the Revolt (Sherif Ali) and in the end perhaps sabotaged their cause by unrealistic expectations and promises that, regardless of his sincerity, was beyond his minor position to deliver and uphold.

Bad Qualities

  1. He's prone to having an arrogance problem with ends up becoming a serious problem and hazard for him in multiple ways.
    • His overconfidence during the Turkan raid ends up becoming his undoing it leads to most of his men getting killed or abandoning him and his inevitable capture by the Turks
    • His addiction to speed is pretty risky for him as well and also comes back to bite him as it's ultimately what gets him killed in the end from an accident on a motorcycle.


  • T.E. Lawrence came in 10th place in the Heroes category on AFI's 100 Heroes and Villains countdown.