Doctor Zhivago (TV miniseries)

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Doctor Zhivago
ZhivagoDVD.jpg
DVD cover
Genre Drama
Directed by Giacomo Campiotti
Produced by Anne Pivcevic
Hugh Warren
Written by Andrew Davies
Starring Hans Matheson
Keira Knightley
Sam Neill
Kris Marshall
Music by Ludovico Einaudi
Editing by Joe Walker
Budget £7 million [1]
Country United Kingdom
United States
Germany
Language English
Original channel ITV
Original run 24 November 2002  – 8 December 2002
Running time 225 minutes
No. of episodes 2

Doctor Zhivago is a 2002 British television miniseries directed by Giacomo Campiotti and starring Hans Matheson, Keira Knightley and Sam Neill. The teleplay by Andrew Davies is based on the 1957 novel of the same title by Boris Pasternak.

The serial is the second English-language screen adaptation of the book, following the 1965 feature film. It was produced by Granada Television, with co-funding from the American PBS station WGBH Boston and the German company Evision. It was first broadcast on ITV in the United Kingdom, beginning on 24 November 2002. In the United States, it aired as part of Masterpiece Theatre on 2 and 9 November 2003.

Plot[edit]

The story begins in Tsarist Russia in the early 1900s and is set primarily against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War of 1918–1921. At its core is Larissa Guishar Antipova, a young woman from Moscow who has a profound effect on three men who become enamored with her.

Victor Komarovsky, an unctuous, wealthy businessman with political connections, is involved in a casual affair with Lara's bourgeois dressmaker mother Amalia, who encourages her teenaged daughter to accept his invitation to dinner in an attempt to retain his financial support of her household. Initially Lara is repelled by the thought, but she finally accepts and eventually uses her sexual power to seduce and ultimately control him.

Idealistic student Pasha Antipov marries Lara, and the two have a child. It is assumed he is killed in World War I, but he embraces Bolshevism and later emerges as Strelnikov, an infamous Red Army general who seemingly has no concern for his family.

The title character is poet and doctor Yuri Zhivago, who first sees Lara from the window of a café. The two meet when he and his mentor are called to minister to Amalia after she attempts suicide in response to her daughter's relationship with Victor Komarovsky, and encounter each other again when Lara tries to shoot Komarovsky at a Christmas party. Zhivago eventually marries his cousin, Tonya Gromeko, with whom he was raised after his father, who was involved in shady business dealings with Komarovsky, killed himself. He and Lara are reunited in a makeshift field hospital, where she is serving as a nurse while searching for her missing husband. The two fall in love but do not consummate their relationship until after the war, when Zhivago and his family move to his uncle's family estate near Yuryatin, a remote village in the Ural Mountains where Lara is living with her daughter.

Zhivago is captured by red partisan fighters who need him to be their medic. Lara is called to serve as the midwife when Tonya is ready to deliver her second child, and Tonya realizes who she is. When it becomes clear they are fighting a lost cause, Zhivago abandons the red partisans and treks across the mountains to Lara's house, where she nurses him back to health. Meanwhile, Tonya, her children, and her father have returned to Moscow. Pursued by Komarovsky, now a leader in the Communist party, Zhivago, Lara and her daughter flee to Varykino. Months later Komarovsky, still obsessed with Lara, arrives and offers them safe passage out of Russia. They initially refuse, but Komarovsky persuades Zhivago it is in Lara's best interests to leave because of her connection to Strelnikov, who has fallen from grace and lost his position in the Red Army. Zhivago convinces Lara, who is expecting their child, to leave with Komarovsky, telling her he will follow her shortly.

Strelnikov, now a hunted man, arrives at Varykino in search of his family soon after they leave with Komarovsky. Zhivago assures him Lara and his daughter are safe, and Strelnikov kills himself.

Zhivago returns to Moscow and learns his wife, son, and father-in-law were removed from their home and their location is unknown. Several years later, while sitting in a café, he sees a young boy who reminds him of himself as a child passing on the street with his mother, who he realizes is Lara. Before he can reach the pair, he suffers a fatal heart attack. Lara brings young Yuri to view his father's body, and as the two near their home, she realizes that Joseph Stalin's NKVD is waiting to place her under arrest. Pretending they're playing a game, she urges her son to run away as quickly as he can before she surrenders to the authorities.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

In discussing adapting the Boris Pasternak novel for television, screenwriter Andrew Davies revealed the task was "daunting because the book is reckoned to be a masterpiece and the film is a great movie and one that I admire very much. Robert Bolt is the king of epic screenplay writers in my book. But as I got further into the book I kept thinking that I didn't agree with Robert Bolt about how to tell the story... and I began to feel much more excited." He added, "It was also a relief to find so much in the book that hadn't found its way into the first movie and could make great drama.... I thought the film does the spectacle really well. Rather surprisingly, it also explains the politics very well, but I thought it could do a better job on the relationships. It's probably a bit controversial, but I thought we could say more about Lara and Yuri and how they get together; about Lara's extraordinary situation at the beginning of the story and Yuri having a dreadful start to his life with his parents dying. None of these things really came out in the movie, but they are there in the book. I think that if they look at both versions now, people will probably think that this version in a lot of ways works better for our time. It's more contemporary. I think they'll find the performances are more subtle yet speak to us in our time. Maybe my script will seem out of date in 20 years time because a lot of them do, but watching the original film, I think the central performances look stilted and dated now."[2]

Initially Davies and director Giacomo Campiotti clashed about how to present the material. Davies recalled, "The first couple of weeks after Giacomo joined this project were horrendous for me because Zhivago has always been one of his very favorite books. He has always dreamed about filming it and has his own interpretation in his head. I can actually remember thinking after one long, long day, where we just didn't agree about a single thing, that it wasn't going to work—it's either got to be him or me. Somehow, we arrived at a compromise and I have almost forgotten what we were arguing about now, as now we are both very pleased with the script. I always knew that he would make it look beautiful because he has got a poet's vision and now, having seen the rushes and some cut footage, I feel like he is my favourite director of all time. Everything is delightful now... Giacomo Campiotti's direction makes it extraordinary."[2]

Because so much of the story is set in the winter, it was crucial to film the series where it was likely snow would be available. Due to budget constraints, Russia, Norway, and Finland were deemed too expensive. Alberta, Canada was considered until the producers learned the previous year's snowfall had been minimal. Other Canadian provinces were rejected because the production crew was told it would be too cold to operate the needed equipment. Slovakia, where a 95% chance of snow was predicted, was selected for the March filming, and there was a blizzard two days before shooting began. But it quickly melted, and eventually the scenic designers had to utilize 1000 bags of artificial snow. Producer Hugh Warren recalled, "We had all the expense of going to Slovakia as well as the trouble of crossing the border, and then there was no snow. It was more than a little ironic."[2]

Costume designer Annie Symons and her staff of thirty had to create more than 3000 costumes and 35,000 individual items of clothing for the cast. The characters of Zhivago and Lara each had at least 90 costume combinations, and six other principal characters had an average of fifteen changes each. By the time principal photography ended, a total of 984 yards of fabric, 300,000 yards of thread, 1 million buttons, and 7,000 safety pins were used.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times said, "By trying so hard for authenticity, this Doctor Zhivago drains the story of much of its lyricism.... Mr. Lean's grander, glossier version was a closer match to the romantic spirit of the novel's hero.... The Davies version is engrossing but more for the harrowing scenes set in the civil war after the revolution than for the novel's legendary love triangle. Black-and-white archival photographs - Moscow slums, newspaper shots of soldiers marching off to World War I - are interspersed throughout the film and slowly bleed into a scene of the television show. The visual trick gives the series a quasi-documentary feel and is quite effective. Yet Mr. Davies takes the same liberties with Pasternak's text as the original film did, focusing on the love story and discarding a lot of the politics, secondary plots and literary sidetracks.... This Doctor Zhivago can be watched as a useful history lesson and as a cautionary show business tale: it is a lot easier to adapt a Jane Austen novel than it is to remake a film by David Lean."[3]

Brian Lowry of Variety observed, "Some will rightfully pine for Maurice Jarre's Oscar-winning score, Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, yet this somewhat less epic take on Boris Pasternak's book is a creditable version, featuring outstanding performances and considerable romance. And hey, kids, it sure beats reading the Cliffs Notes."[4]

Tom Jicha of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel called it "a stunning success" and continued, "Davies' screenplay is involving, the cinematography is captivating, the costuming and set designs evoke a sense of time and place, and the top-of-the-marquee performances are world-class." He concluded, "Doctor Zhivago is a hefty production, which demands a four-hour, commercial-free commitment from its audience. But the reward is a richly layered character study and love story, worthy of the franchise under which it airs."[5]

Melanie McFarland of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer graded the series B+ and commented it "manages to maintain true to the main story line, streamlining incidental characters to keep the film from becoming too unwieldy, which takes some effort considering the book's rich language and numerous characters.... Even so, this version, though a little better paced than the original, is still fairly sluggish. Given the book, perhaps that's unavoidable."[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

In the UK, the serial was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Drama Serial but lost to Shackleton. Giacomo Campiotti was nominated Best New Director and Annie Symons was nominated for Best Costume Design.

In the US, the serial was nominated for the Satellite Award for Best Miniseries but lost to Angels in America.

DVD release[edit]

Acorn Media released a Region 1 DVD on 4 November 2003. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with an English audio track and subtitles. Bonus features include extensive interviews with the cast and crew, a photo gallery, a biography of Boris Pasternak, and cast filmographies.

References[edit]

External links[edit]