Mr. Dryden is a fictional character in the film Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He is portrayed by veteran actor Claude Rains. He is a diplomat and political leader, the head of the Arab Bureau, who first enlists T. E. Lawrence (Peter O'Toole) for work as a liaison to the Arab Revolt, and manipulates Lawrence and the Arabs to ensure Allied dominion over the post-war Middle East.
Dryden appears early in the film, discussing the military situation in the Middle East with General Archibald Murray (Donald Wolfit) in his Cairo office. He recognizes Lawrence's abilities and knowledge and manages to convince Murray that Lawrence is the "man for the job". He speaks briefly with Lawrence in his office (which is ornamented with Egyptian artifacts) and tries to convince Lawrence that the desert is a "burning, fiery furnace" despite Lawrence's claims of it being "fun". Dryden sums up his attitude by telling Lawrence:
It is recognized you have a funny sense of fun.
Dryden reappears at the end of Act I in the office with General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and Colonel Harry Brighton (Anthony Quayle), as Lawrence recounts the Aqaba expedition, is promoted, and tries to convince Allenby he should be reassigned. Dryden says to Allenby of Lawrence's exploits:
Before he did it, sir, I'd have said it couldn't be done.
Dryden sits in on Allenby's and Lawrence's military conference in the courtyard and tells Allenby that the question of British expansion in the Middle East is a "difficult question". At the end of the scene, he and Brighton debate Allenby's promise to provide Lawrence's Arabs with artillery:
Dryden: Are you really going to give them artillery, sir?
Brighton: I was wondering that, sir. Might be deuce difficult to get it back again.
Dryden: Give them artillery and you've made them independent.
Allenby: Then I can't give them artillery, can I?
Dryden: For you to say, sir.
Allenby: No, it's not. I've got orders to obey, thank God! Not like that poor devil - he's riding the whirlwind.
Dryden: Let's hope we're not.
Dryden reappears in Allenby's office in Jerusalem where he is meeting with Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness). He informs Lawrence of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Anglo-French plan to divide up the Ottoman Empire, and coldly justifies his actions:
A man who tells lies, like me, merely hides the truth. But a man who tells half-lies, has forgotten where he's put it.
As the argument between Lawrence and Allenby escalates, Dryden notices a growing spot of blood on the back of Lawrence's uniform. Dryden draws Allenby's attention to it, and excuses himself. He is accosted by journalist Jackson Bentley (Arthur Kennedy), who demands to see Lawrence. Dryden dismisses him, describing the argument between Lawrence and Allenby:
It's a little clash of temperament that's going on in there. Inevitably, one of them's half-mad. And the other—wholly unscrupulous.
Dryden reappears in Damascus, convincing General Allenby to stand by and allow Lawrence and Feisal's "Arab Council" to collapse on its own, fearing that any interference with them would cause "a full-scale rising". At the end of the film, Dryden helps Allenby and Feisal hammer out a compromise as the Arab Council collapses, trying to save Arab face while handing power over to the British. Asked his opinion of the situation by Feisal, Dryden responds with his typical world-weariness:
Me, Your Highness? Well, on the whole, I wish I'd stayed in Tunbridge Wells.
Like Sherif Ali and Colonel Brighton, Dryden was an amalgamation of several historical figures. Robert Bolt stated that the character was created to "represent the civilian and political wing of British interests, to balance Allenby's military objectives."
The most often cited predecessor for Dryden is Sir Ronald Storrs. Storrs was an intelligence officer with whom Lawrence first travelled to the Hejaz to meet with the Arab forces, and somewhat reluctantly assigned Lawrence as a liaison. Storrs headed the Arab Bureau and also became Governor of Jerusalem after its capture by Allenby.
Other sources for Dryden include D. G. Hogarth, an archaeologist friend of Lawrence who also served as an intelligence officer; Henry McMahon, the High Commissioner of Egypt who negotiated the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence which effectively trigged the Arab Revolt; and Mark Sykes, who helped draw up the Sykes-Picot Agreement which co-divided the post-war Middle East. Lawrence's official biographer, Jeremy Wilson, characterizes Sykes as "ambitious and... capable of wholly cynical manoeuvring when this would achieve some short-term goal", similar to the film's fictional Dryden.
Dryden is, as shown by the dialogue quoted above, an exceedingly cynical and unscrupulous individual who uses short-sighted pragmatism as his primary weapon. In an early scene with General Murray, he tells him that "The job of the moment is to win the war", showing that his concern is with the immediate rather than long-term consequences. He is aware of the consequences of his actions but does not seem concerned with them. He is also very intelligent, perceptive, and cultured (shown by his knowledge of the Middle East and his collection of archaeological findings in his office), referred to by Bolt as a "cultivated xenophile" in the script, and uses this knowledge to manipulate both Lawrence and the Arabs. Dryden is a typical 'Political Agent'. At this period the political agents were seconded from the ICS (Indian Civil Service). They had a stated rank, of course and their rank counted as "higher than the highest ranking officer in the room". This means they out-ranked any army officer in any circumstances
- Lawrence of Arabia or Smith in the Desert?
- Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorized Biography of T.E. Lawrence (1990), p. 230