- What’s On
The film Letters from Baghdad tells the extraordinary story of Gertrude Bell, who travelled to escape the strictures imposed on an English woman in Victorian England, and became one of the most influential British imperial policy makers in the Middle East. By the beginning of the First World War, her extensive travels in Syria, Mesopotamia, Iran, Anatolia and Arabia, and her impressive linguistic skills, made her indispensable to British military intelligence. After the war she proved even more influential within the British political administration which shaped the frontiers of the modern Middle East from Baghdad and Cairo.
Using brilliantly researched film footage from Baghdad at the time, the documentary tells her story almost entirely in the words of Bell (voiced by Tilda Swinton) and her contemporaries. It resurrects the reputation of a woman unfairly sidelined by the fame of some of her male contemporaries. It also shows the pernicious attitude of the worst sort of British colonial administrator and the cupidity of the European powers, as well as praising those (like Bell) who worked themselves to death on behalf of the new Iraq. The abiding legacy of this period, of which we are only too well aware today, nestles behind the film, which above all is about the overwhelming difficulties of being an intelligent and outspoken woman at the beginning of the 20th century.
Run time 1hr 31min