It’s currently the May bank holiday, which means that there is more than enough time to watch the longest remaining film on the 1001 list. It has briefly held the record since I watched A Touch of Zen little over a month ago, which will now belong to Children of Paradise and who knows when I’ll get around to seeing that.
Doctor Zhivago is the fourth of the six David Lean films that I have seen for the 1001 list and, as of the moment, this might be either my absolute favourite or my joint favourite alongside Great Expectations. It is a romantic epic, based on the novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak, telling the story of a Russian doctor and poet that lives through the events of the Russian Revolution and the lead up to World War Two.
Due to it’s less than glowing depiction of the revolution and that characters die as the result of the Stalinist purges, you can see why this book was initially refused publication in the Soviet Union. You still have the criticism of these political movements in the film, but a lot of the political nuance from the book has been removed in order to focus on the central romance. Honestly, I don’t take too much issue with this as, otherwise, this adaptation is meant to be mostly faithful. If anything, it actually makes me more interested in actually picking up the novel at some point in the future in order to see what had to be excised for the sake of runtime.
When you watch a David Lean film post-1940s you are basically guaranteed a long film with astonishingly beautiful cinematography. Doctor Zhivago does not disappoint on that front at all with it going between gorgeous snow scenes and more visceral scenes of battles and a massacre. It’s a film that takes it’s time but, unlike Lawrence of Arabia which is nearly an hour longer, I didn’t feel that here. It felt instead like I was watching a snowy Russian Gone with the Wind but with Bolsheviks instead of slavery.
These visuals are further enhanced by the score, including the incredibly famous ‘Lara’s Theme’ which recurs throughout. Also there are brilliant performances by Omar Sheriff as the titular Doctor Zhivago (who also looks so stunning in this) and by Tom Courtenay whose character of Pasha probably undergoes the greatest transformation over the course of the 3+ hours. Is it slightly distracting that all these Russian characters speak with very English accents? In the beginning, yes, but you get used to it after a while.
So, what David Lean’s does this leave me with? Firstly there is the 1940s classic Brief Encounter which, due to my current embargo on that decade, I won’t be seeing for a while. It’s therefore more likely that I’ll see his other film (A Passage to India) first given how I recently read the book.