T.E. Lawrence was the British lieutenant who organized the Arab overthrow of the Ottoman Empire, then watched in dismay as the European powers reneged on their promise—his promise, actually—that “Arabia’s for the Arabs now.” A figure of enormous accomplishment and even huger charisma, Lawrence promoted himself as assiduously as he did Arab nationalism: a legend in the self-making. The film version met this epic in the flesh head-on. Robert Bolt’s eloquent, epigrammatic script traced Lawrence’s career from mapmaking in the British army’s Cairo headquarters to masterminding Arab nationalism. Lean, a superb pictorial dramatizer, filled the wide screen with an endless desert occasionally peopled by passionate warriors (well played by Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness and an actual Arab, Omar Sharif). Peter O’Toole’s swashbuckling incarnation made Lawrence a towering, tragic, high-camp sheik of Araby. The film, which seemed nostalgic upon its release, looks prescient now, as the debate over Western influence in Arabia is written daily in blood.