Classic: Doctor Zhivago (1965) A Review

One of the great Historical Epics, I have managed to be alive for thirty years and have never seen it.  So it was way past time that I changed that.

Certificate: U

Director: David Lean

Screenwriter: Boris Pasternak (novel), Robert Bolt

Starring: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin

Genre: History, Drama

Runtime: 193 Minutes (Ouch!)

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewed by: Pearl

Set During the First World War and the Violent days of the Early Russian Revolution, you know right from the off that this isn’t exactly going to be an uplifting and joyous tale.  Yuri is a Doctor in Moscow and goes away to the First World War to fight in the front lines, there he strikes up a relationship with his young nurse Lara.  When he returns to his family in Moscow after the war, he finds life quite different from when he left it. Communism is taking over and the husband of his young nurse, is a political activist pushing the movement forward.  By chance Yuri and Lara meet again, both of them suffering at the hands of the new regime and they fall in love, starting an affair right in the height of the October Revolution.

The strangest thing about this film, is that all the important RUSSIAN characters are being played by incredibly upper class, British sounding actors.  To give you an idea of how British and upper class I am talking about, one of them is Sir Alec Guinness!  And none of them even try and put on even the feeblest of Russian accents.  This threw me for the first twenty minutes or so but continued to bother me throughout the film.  You can’t fault the acting talent of everyone involved, they are all first-class actors, giving a magnificent performance.  But if all the much more minor and background characters could put on a fake Russian accent, could our main actors not do so as well?

I haven’t read the original novel on which the film is based (It’s on my shelves somewhere, just never got round to it,) but the shear length of this production makes me think that it must be a somewhat faithful adaption of the source material.  This film was clearly made in a time where books weren’t stripped down to bare bones, and dumbed down for audiences before adaptions could be put in cinemas.  This story has a rich and deep world built for it, it doesn’t shy away from the hard topics it is dealing with and portrays the troubles of the time with out flinching. 

Russian history is something that I find particularly fascinating, so for some maybe this film will go on for too long, and look at things too deeply, but for me, despite it’s three hour plus runtime, I found it to be engaging and interesting the entire way through.  I did forget after about an hour that this story is told in sort of a flashback narrative from the perspective of Alec Guinness’ character.  So how he knows half of what happened I have no idea, but that aspect of the story doesn’t really have that much of an important part to play in the actual main narrative, so can mostly be forgotten until the end.

The camera work, the cinematography, set and costume design and the music all then wrap this movie up to be a beautiful package from start to finish.  Fans of Biopics and history will no doubt love this one, and for true cinephiles, this film makes it onto nearly every Best of List that there is, so it is a pretty high recommendation all round.

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