Film of the Week 18 September 2020

This week I have been indulging in an epic romance from 1965-Dr Zhivago, David Lean’s expansive version of the book by Boris Pasternak from a screenplay by Robert Bolt. It won five Oscars but lost out on Best Picture and Direction to a little musical called ‘The Sound of Music’!

Set against the turmoil of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Russia, Lean’s film is a sweeping historical epic but at heart the romantic story of the love between Yuri Zhivago and ‘Lara’ that endures through the nightmare of war and revolution despite being married to others. Lean had become the king of epics due to the success of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ but here he had to encompass a deeply personal story without swamping it with the historical canvas. Denied the action -filled thrills of ‘Lawrence’ he gives us a condensation of the revolutionary events allowing Omar Shariff as Zhivago and Julie Christie as ‘Lara’ to take center-stage and their performances are superb if over glamorized at times.

The supporting cast is outstanding for the period with Alec Guinness in sombre mood as Zhivago’s brother, Ralph Richardson and Siobhan Mc Kenna as his foster parents, Geraldine Chapman as his tolerant wife, Rod Steiger as a ruthless businessman and Tom Courtenay as ‘Lara’s’ husband and revolutionary leader.

The cinematography by Freddie Young is superb, working wonders with filming in Spain during a heatwave. The snow is dust from a marble quarry in some sequences! And there is the iconic music score by Maurice Jarre. This is epic film making in the old style that still thrills with huge sets, hundreds of extras and no CGI.

At three hours twenty minutes it is a long watch but ideal for Sunday afternoon on BBC I-Player. It is also available on Amazon Prime.