Doctor Zhivago (1965) Directed by David Lean. With Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Tom Courtenay and Alec Guinness.
To date, and adjusted for inflation, David Lean’s epic tale of love – set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution – stands as the eighth highest earning film of all-time. While it can be said that box office performance does not always equate to cinematic quality, back in 1965, before the age of blockbuster, you probably had to be doing something pretty special to pull in such crowds.
Released three years after Lawrence of Arabia, Lean’s awe inspiring ambition and measure of a huge narrative arc is still healthily intact. What’s impressive here, apart from the stunning cinematography, masterful direction and poetic symbolism, is that despite the enormous scale, there still exists a sense of intimacy.
Like any true epic, the events takes place over a vast spread of space and time, out on real locations to heighten the sense of authenticity. That said, not one frame was shot inside Russia, as the source material of the book the film is based on, was banned in the Soviet Union. In terms of performances, the film is rich with talent. In the title role, Omar Sharif is a captivating presence and Lean makes the most of expressing moments of drama through his big, beautiful eyes. Equally brilliant is Rod Steiger, whose devilish character, Komarovsky, uses his power to manipulate Julie Christie’s Lara, often to suit his own needs.
Dr Zhivago is all about love and survival, against all manner of obstacles. Its length requires a certain amount of commitment on your part, but there’s an old fashioned beauty about its slow moving narrative that makes it well worth your time. The central musical motif, which is reprised throughout, reverberates effectively around the drama, telling of dreams not realised, perhaps even love that was meant for another lifetime. A classic for all time. 5/5