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Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Courtesy Turner Entertainment Co.

Main image of Doctor Zhivago (1965)
Directed byDavid Lean
©/Presented byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Produced byCarlo Ponti
Screenplay byRobert Bolt
From the novel byBoris Pasternak
CinematographyFreddie Young
Original MusicMaurice Jarre

Cast: Omar Sharif (Yuri Zhivago); Julie Christie (Lara); Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya Gromeko); Tom Courtenay (Pasha Antipov/'Strelnikoff'); Alec Guinness (Yevgraf Zhivago); Siobhan Mckenna (Anna Gromeko); Ralph Richardson (Alexander Gromeko); Rod Steiger (Komarovsky)

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While studying to be a doctor in Moscow, Yuri Zhivago meets the beautiful Lara, setting in train a fateful romance that spans the early years of the Russian Revolution, during which Zhivago and Lara's lives are turned upside down.

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First published in Italy in 1957, Boris Pasternak's largely autobiographical novel was literally smuggled out of the country by the publisher Giacomo Feltrinelli, and was not officially available in the Soviet Union until 1988; the film version had to wait even longer. Although Italian producer Carlo Ponti had initially thought of the film as a vehicle for his wife, Sophia Loren, when MGM brought in David Lean, the director chose Julie Christie instead.

After a series of financial failures, MGM was desperately looking for a hit, and so gave Lean carte blanche. He turned to many of the cast and crew from his previous film, the hugely successful Lawrence of Arabia (1962), including: actors Omar Sharif and Alec Guinness, composer Maurice Jarre, Production Designer John Box, Costume Designer Phyllis Dalton, screenwriter Robert Bolt and, belatedly, cinematographer Freddie Young. Initially Lean had hired Nicolas Roeg, who had shot second unit on Lawrence, but they didn't get along and after a few weeks he was let go.

Lean even begins the film as he did Lawrence, with a long prologue leading into the main bulk of the narrative, which is told in flashback. He had previously used such a structure for In Which We Serve (1942) and Brief Encounter (1945); unlike Lawrence however, the flashback bookends the narrative to provide some sense of closure, providing a more upbeat end to the film. Initially, it also serves to make it clear that Zhivago and Lara will eventually become lovers - they don't actually speak to each other until 80 minutes into the film.

As Komarovsky, Rod Steiger (a late replacement for James Mason) steals every scene that he is in, clearly revelling in playing such a morally varied and ambiguous character, one that perhaps even achieves a kind of nobility by the end. Just as good is Tom Courtenay who, as his change from the idealistic young Pasha to the weary and embittered Strelnikov indicates, is given a substantial character arc. In this respect, Sharif, Christie and Geraldine Chaplin in the main roles are saddled with rather static and passive characters giving them less scope to shine. Visually stunning, the film is replete with memorable images: the frozen dacha, the cavalry charge against the Moscow demonstrators, a battle seen through a pair of spectacles, a cornflower that seems to weep. In 2002 the novel was turned into a mini-series by ITV.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Society shooting (2:59)
2. The ice palace (2:58)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Knight Without Armour (1937)
Bolt, Robert (1924-1995)
Box, John (1920-2005)
Christie, Julie (1941-)
Corri, Adrienne (1931-)
Courtenay, Tom (1937-)
Guinness, Alec (1914-2000)
Jarre, Maurice (1924-2009)
Lean, David (1908-1991)
Pitt, Ingrid (1937-2010)
Tushingham, Rita (1942-)
Young, Freddie (1902-1998)