Academics and pundits can debate the impact that T. E. Lawrence left on the Arab world, but the making of the film Lawrence of Arabia had an undeniable effect in Jordan, where it was filmed. Indeed, King Abdullah II of Jordan owes his very existence to the film.
That story begins with Antoinette “Toni” Gardiner, who was born near Ipswich, England in 1941 and grew up like any other ordinary English girl during World War II. After finishing school she worked as a secretarial assistant on the set of Lawrence of Arabia, and when King Hussein of Jordan visited the set (he allowed his soldiers to act as extras in the film and was supporting its production) a party was hosted for him which he attended and the young English typist caught his eye. She charmed him with her honesty and plain speaking, and they shared much in common — they both loved the outdoors — and the King soon fell in love.
That was all it took. Gardiner converted to Islam, they got married, and she was renamed Muna al-Hussein, which means “Hussein’s Delight.” She refused to take the title of Queen and was not called Princess until after the birth of her first son. She was the King’s second wife; he had divorced his previous wife, from Egypt, years before.
Princess Muna gave birth to four of the King children, including Prince Abdullah, the King’s first son, and also raised Princess Alia, the daughter from the King’s first marriage. But the marriage to the king did not last and they divorced in 1972. The King may have had a roving eye, but it is worth noting that in his four marriages, he never had a second wife, on the grounds that it would be unfair to Muna. And Muna remained a member of the royal family and an important figure in Jordanian society.
Abdullah was his father’s eldest son and should have been the appointed heir his entire life, but there was political instability in Jordan in the 1970s, and his father appointed his brother as crown prince. This lasted for decades, with Abdullah a minor figure in the Hashemite family, studying at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK and doing goofy things like appearing as an extra in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. It was just as King Hussein entered the final year of his life that Macbeth-like intrigue saw the various wives and family members jockeying for influence. Mere weeks before King Hussein’s death, Abdullah appointed Crown Prince, and took the crown the day his father died. While his half-brother served as crown prince for several years, that was eventually removed from him and last year, the king’s son Prince Hussein (the grandson of Princess Muna) became Crown Prince.
The Hashemite royal line traces its origins back forty-three generations to the Prophet Mohammed himself. Yet as of the current king, from here on, it can also owe itself to the filming of one of Hollywood’s greatest epics.