By now, you all know that one of the highly anticipated Damian Lewis projects this year is Queen of the Desert, directed by celebrated director Werner Herzog and starring Nicole Kidman, Damian Lewis, Robert Pattinson and James Franco. The movie had its World Premiere at Berlinale 2015 and will be coming to the US movie theaters in winter 2015 according to the official movie website.
Queen of the Desert is essentially a biopic of Gertrude Bell, a traveler, writer, archaeologist, explorer, cartographer, political attaché and a spy for the British Empire in the Middle East in the early 20th century. She shaped the politics of the Middle East and drew up the borders of modern Jordan as well as Iraq. Think of more or less a female Lawrence of Arabia.
Nicole Kidman stars as Gertrude Bell, and Damian Lewis takes on the role of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie, who is considered to be the love of Bell’s life. He was married, and the two had a romantic, yet unconsummated relationship; they exchanged love letters between 1913-15 until his death.
We first met Charles Doughty-Wylie — in the form of Damian Lewis — in a minute long video released just before the movie’s premiere at Berlin Film Festival in February.
You may have noticed that, in the clip, Charles Doughty-Wylie kindly tells Gertrude Bell to call him “Richard.” Note that Doughty-Wylie’s name is sometimes referred to as Charles (Dick) Doughty-Wylie in wiki pages and articles. It seems that his close circle called him Dick — short for Richard.
Well… Being our Queen of the Desert expert, JaniaJania has already brought you the love story between Gertrude Bell and Charles Doughty-Wylie here and here. She also studied the movie’s trailer frame by frame for us. Today, I would like to dig a bit more into Doughty-Wylie, his fascinating connection to my native Turkey (this makes the third Damian Lewis character with connections to Turkey after Gareth in Will and Norman in Brides!) as well as what Damian Lewis thinks about him!
Lt. Colonel Charles Hotham Montagu Doughty-Wylie was the British Consul in Mersina (Mersin in modern Turkey) Ottoman Empire during the Young Turks Revolution in 1909. When the Armenian Massacres started along with the revolution, according to Richard Bell-Davies, who wrote in his autobiography, Sailor in the Air, it was largely due to the efforts of Doughty-Wylie that these were halted in Mersin. Doughty-Wylie then went to Adana, a neighboring city, and persuaded the governor of the city to give him a small escort of Ottoman troops and was able to restore order there as well. Mrs. Doughty-Wylie turned part of the dragoman’s house into a hospital for wounded Armenians. Newspaper reports of the period record that Doughty-Wylie was shot in the arm, while trying to prevent these massacres.
From what I have read on Doughty-Wylie’s marriage, my impression is that this man was attracted to strong and independent women, and his wife was no exception: “Doughty-Wylie married in 1904 to Lilian Adams, daughter of John Wylie of Westcliff Hall, Hampshire, and widow of the late Lieutenant Henry Adams of the Indian Medical Service, who had changed his name by deed poll to Adams-Wylie on their marriage. Charles Doughty in turn also added his wife’s name to his own surname on their marriage. The couple honeymooned on the North West Frontier of India, returning to England via Baghdad, Babylon and Constantinople. Mrs. Doughty-Wylie joined in her husband’s relief work during the Balkan War in 1913 and superintended the management of Red Cross Hospitals at Constantinople.”
So, Doughty-Wylie lived and worked in Turkey as the British Consul, but he also died there, at a young age of 46, in Gallipoli, during the First World War.
An extract from “The London Gazette”, # 29202, dated June 23, 1915, records the following: “On 26th April 1915 subsequent to a landing having been effected on the beach at a point on the Gallipoli Peninsula, during which both Brigadier- General and Brigade Major had been killed, Lieutenant- Colonel Doughty-Wylie and Captain Walford organised and led an attack through and on both sides of the village of Sedd el Bahr (Seddulbahir in modern Turkish) on the Old Castle at the top of the hill inland. The enemy`s position was very strongly held and entrenched, and defended with concealed machine-guns and pom-poms. It was mainly due to the initiative, skill and great gallantry of these two officers that the attack was a complete success. Both were killed in the moment of victory.”
Some sources argue that Doughty-Wylie only carried a stick as he led the attack because of his love of the Turkish people that he did not want to kill any of them. A Telegraph article, on the other hand, takes a different view and argues that, stuck between an unhappy marriage and an unconsummated but still passionate affair, Doughty-Wylie actually committed suicide in Gallipoli.
“By the third year of their affair, Doughty-Wylie was at his wits’ end, having been warned by his wife that she would kill herself if he left her, and by Bell that she would kill herself if he didn’t. Scornful of convention as ever, she had urged him to ignore the social disgrace of divorce, telling him in one heartfelt letter: “It’s that or nothing. I can’t live without you.”
Unable to keep either woman happy, he instead chose to lead a group of soldiers on a particularly dangerous beach landing at Gallipoli in April 1915. A Turkish bullet killed him at the moment of victory, and his gallantry won him a posthumous VC. Yet fellow soldiers noticed he seemed strangely calm during battle, taking no weapon with him and making no effort to avoid theTurkish guns. Did he have suicidal intentions of his own that day?”
Well, who knows?
Doughty-Wylie’s grave is the only solitary British or Commonwealth war grave on the Gallipoli peninsula thanks to his services for the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish authorities moved the graves of all other foreign soldiers to the “V Beach” graves except for his. Jeremy Seal, in his personal pilgrimage to Gallipoli article says that the local legend identifies Gertrude Bell “as the veiled woman seen at his grave shortly before the eventual allied evacuation.”
Now… Since it is Damian Lewis who is bringing this real-life character to us, it makes sense to find out what he thinks about Doughty-Wylie and his connection to Bell as well as about the movie and its celebrated director?
We first heard Damian talk about Queen of the Desert at Conan Show last year just before he went to Morocco for the shoot:
We know our guy chooses his roles carefully, and it was nice to find out about finding out why he chose to go to desert with Werner Herzog at the Queen of the Desert World Premiere Red Carpet:
Finally, Damian talked about his character Charles Doughty-Wylie and his relationship with Gertrude Bell at the Berlinale Queen of the Desert press conference.
Damian said of the relationship: “They sent beautiful and erotic letters to each other… but of its time… there is nothing explicit or sexual… there were suggestions of love, of missing each other… And, Doughty-Wylie was married, so… he was, I suppose, in some ways, being a naughty boy… I’m not sure if he would have ever left his wife or not… I think he was caught, he was caught, but he was certainly taken by Gertrude Bell.”
Having read some of the letters, I second Damian that they are beautiful and some are pretty erotic. Here’s an excerpt from a Doughty-Wylie letter:
“So much a thing of the mind is the passion of the body. Women sometimes give themselves to men for the man’s pleasure. I’d hate a woman to be like that with me. I’d want her to have to the last sigh the same surge and stir that carried me away. She should miss nothing that I could give her.” (CDW to GB, 15 November 1914, source: Gertrude Bell: The Arabian Diaries, 1913-1914 by Georgina Howell & Rosemary O’Brien. Syracuse University Press. Page 32).
Hearing Damian talk about his research and all at the press conference was great, BUT the funniest and the loveliest moment was when he said…
…and cracked everyone up in the room!
Then he added: “[Cutting it] was the right way to convey their love, their longing. It was too modern to have two people chewing each others’ faces off.”
Damian is absolutely RIGHT! Words can often be much more powerful in conveying love and longing than a looong kiss… like we see in the letters Charles Doughty-Wylie wrote to Gertrude Bell almost every day to express his love and longing for her:
“The desert has you, you and your splendid courage, my queen of the desert — and my heart is with you. If I was young and free, and a very perfect knight, it would be more fitting to take and kiss you. But I am old and tired and full of a hundred faults…you are right — not that way for you and me– because we are slaves, not because it is not the right, the natural way– when the passions of the body flame and melt into the passions of spirit—in those dream ecstasies so rarely found by any human creature, those, as you say, whom God hath really joined– in some divine moment we might reach it—the ecstasy. We never shall. But there is left so much. As you say my dear, wise Queen — all that there is we will take.”(source: Daughter of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell. Pan Publishing. Page 155)
So… Let’s see hands! Who else can’t wait to see this LOVE in Queen of the Desert?