One of those Sunday afternoon sweeping epics that never seems to be off the TV schedule but before the List I’d never seen before (see also The Sound of Music, Gone With the Wind, The Ten Commandments), Doctor Zhivago was a bit of a disappointment.
For starters, it’s well over 3 hours long, but very little of that mammoth runtime left any kind of impression. Other than some striking imagery – a splash of blood in freshly fallen snow, a burst of yellow sunflowers against a dull, beige hallway – and a few admittedly impressive set pieces, there’s very little from this film that’s been committed to my memory banks.
Given there’s so much time to handle, the characters don’t receive much characterisation. This is a real shame, particularly for Omar Sharif as the titular medical man, who gives an engaging a bright-eyes performance, but of a character I still know very little about. His Sharif is born into a wealthy family in Russia, a little before the Bolshevik Revolution, and the film tells of his many and varied troubles throughout his, and Russia’s, history. On many occasions the history overshadows his life, as well it should, but the focus of the film is instead on him and his loves, for his childhood sweetheart Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin), whom he marries, is forcibly separated from Zhivago, forming a love triangle when he works closely with Julie Christie’s Lara.
At times the film reminded me of – whisper it – Pearl Harbour, particularly when I was asked to try and forget about the major historical event taking place in the background of a scene, and instead focus on the trivialities of the relationships of the leads, but just like Michael Bay’s explosion-fest, the grand scale of the set pieces was very impressive. Be it the hundreds of singing extras at a rally that becomes a battleground against an army of sword-wielding Cossacks, or the miles-long trudge Zhivago sets out on to return home through the snow, there is little shortage of spectacle.
Look out for Klaus Kinski on a train, and listen as your cries for more Alec Guinness – as Zhivago’s brother Yevgraf – go unheard. Whilst the film is certainly at times impressive, especially for its time, today it doesn’t really hold up, though it is certainly better than Pearl Harbour.
Choose life 6/10