Urban Cinefile
"I got on a plane and 18 months later I was walking on stage at London's Old Vic alongside Sir John Gielgud. That's fucking adventurous, or it's pretty lucky."  -Bryan Brown
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday July 12, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



When World War I and the Bolshevik revolution turn Russia upside down, Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) finds his personal life is also upended. Happily married to the well-bred Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) he falls passionately in love with the tragic Lara (Julie Christie), who becomes his mistress. A doctor by profession but a poet at heart, Zhivago writes a cycle of poems about Lara that is destined to become a classic. But in the early days of the revolution his bourgeois background and ambivalence toward the Communist Party place both he and Lara in grave danger.

Review by Stuart Whitmore:
Epic, sweeping, majestic. All the clichťs about David Leanís brand of filmmaking apply to Doctor Zhivago, introduced by Omar Sharif as the last of the great MGM epics. But it is the attention to detail that marked Lean out as a great director and it is his subtler touches that linger in the memory longestóparticularly on the small screen.

For all the filmís widescreen vistas, Leanís skill with the camera is never more evident than when he is confined to quarters. Creeping in and around Moscow houses and apartments, Lean sneaks up on characters through windows and uses harsh light and deep shadows to create an expressionistic gloom. There is more visual invention in the three hours of Doctor Zhivago than some directors manage in their entire careers. In one of the filmís most sublime moments a solitary candle melts the frost on a window pane, allowing the slow discovery of the scene taking place inside. Itís pure poetry, which of course is the point. From the early scenes where a young Zhivago watches the strange rhythms of his motherís funeral as if in a dream, through to his and Laraís parting, when even the sunflowers seem to weep, Leanís images are a surrogate for Zhivagoís words.

Important narrative detail does get lost in Zhivagoís huge embrace, however. The doctorís passion for Lara is afforded too little screen time, to the detriment of their romance. Lean lavishes attention on Laraís relationships with political weathervane Komarovsky (Rod Steiger) and firebrand Pasha (Tom Courtenay) when really we need more convincing that noble Zhivago could be tempted into adultery. Some of the performances have dated, too. In 1964 the acting plaudits were awarded to spaniel-eyed Sharif and Julie Christie as the honey-skinned heroine. Today their performances seem overly-theatricalóeven next to the plummy what-what-whatting of Ralph Richardson. It is Steigerís turn as the gruff, morally reprehensible Komarovsky that stands up best. Heís ably supported by the chameleonic Alec Guinness as the stiff-necked General Yevgraf, Zhivagoís half brother, who is so good you can almost smell the vodka.

Whatever its faults, Doctor Zhivago remains the perfect movie for a wet Sunday arvo. And with the DVD release you can now make it last all weekend. Not only is the film so long you have to turn the disc over at half time, thereís a second DVD of special features to go with it. The audio commentary is excellent, with Sharif even more charming and likeable as himself than as Zhivago. Boy, can this guy tell a story. Sharif is ably assisted by Sandra Lean, Davidís widow, who weighs in with anecdotes on the late directorís behalf. Rod Steigerís words were recorded in another place, another time, but are spliced into the commentary at appropriate moments. By turns self-deprecating and self-promoting (the brash American actorís ego clearly clashed with Leanís British superiority complex) Steiger isnít short of good stories himself.

Four making of features from the 60s, along with press interviews and profiles of the stars give historical context to a film that was adored by the public but derided by critics. A more recent, hour-long retrospective looks at every aspect of the film, including the 12-month shoot, which was an epic itself. Actors fall under trains, the crew attempts to recreate the Russian winter in Spain, and composer Maurice Jarre scours Hollywood for someone with a Balalaika. Classic stuff. But the highlight is an interview with the real Lara, Boris Pasternakís mistress and the inspiration for his semi-autobiographical, Nobel-prize winning novel. Her words and the archival footage of the author and his muse create a genuinely touching moment to match anything from the movie.

Published December 20, 2001

Email this article

You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia


CAST: Omar Sharif, Geraldine Chaplin, Julie Christie, Tom Courtenay, Alec Guinness, Siobhan McKenna, Ralph Richardson, Rod Steiger, Rita Tushingham

DIRECTOR: David Lean

RUNNING TIME: 192 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: November 21, 2001

Widescreen; Introduction by Omar Sharif; Audio commentary by Omar Sharif, Sandra Lean and Rod Steiger; Isolated musical score; 5 Making of features; Press interviews; Star profiles; Geraldine Chaplinís screen test; Cast and crew listing; Theatrical trailer. Languages: English 5.1, Italian 5.1. Subtitles: English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Italian for the hearing impaired.

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018