Letters from Baghdad, tells the story of Gertrude Bell, pioneering adventurer, diplomat, and spy who helped shape the Middle East after the First World War.

Gertrude grew up in Redcar – where her former home, Red Barns, is the subject of a campaign to restore it. She was the first woman to achieve a first-class degree in modern history from Oxford, and British military intelligence recruited her to help draw the borders of Iraq. She worked with the likes of TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) and Winston Churchill.

The film, voiced by Hollywood actress Tilda Swinton, records her remarkable journey into both the uncharted Arabian desert and into British colonial power as she travelled the world. It is told in the words of Bell and her contemporaries, using letters, private diaries and official documents.

Critics Views

A carefully researched documentary that uses an extraordinary wealth of appealing archival footage accompanied by Tilda Swinton’s voiceover as Bell

While we learn much about Bell, including details about her troubled personal life, we never get a complete sense of her historical importance. As such, the film will best be appreciated by those already deeply familiar with her story.
The Hollywood Reporter

The directors asked the redoubtable Tilda Swinton to read Bell’s letters, and, in configuring the film as if it were made after Bell’s death in 1926, they cast actors in the roles of Bell’s contemporaries, such as T. E. Lawrence, Vita Sackville-West and Arnold Wilson. The actors appear as documentary-style talking heads. The strategy does, however, enable the filmmakers to keep Bell in a bubble, inoculated from the disapproval her work received in subsequent years. While she is still highly regarded by many Iraqis, the scholar Edward Said was critical of her in his landmark study “Orientalism.” With this movie’s framing, the directors don’t even have to bring him up. There’s much historical material here that’s of high interest, and Ms. Swinton’s performance of Bell’s letters convey Bell’s skills as a writer.
The New York Times

Film Rating

Critics 69%
Audience 72%

Rotten Tomatoes
Critics positive review 85%  Audience liked it 68%

Stockbridge Audience: 88.1%

Number of responses:-
Excellent 49
Good 37
Average 1
Poor 1
Very Poor 0

Date: Friday 15th September

Time: 7.30pm

Genre: Documentary

Director: Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum

With the voices of: Tilda Swinton, Rose Leslie, Rachael Stirling, Paul McGann

Film Length: 1hr 33mins

Rating: PG
Brief images of dead bodies, suicide references

Video Trailer

Programme Notes

letters from baghdad image #4
Gertrude Bell image #3