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An All Too Brief Affair- Television Review
Publication: The Daily Mail London England;
Author: Paterson Peter
ONE can imagine the panic at Granada Television when director Giacomo Campiotti, on location in Slovakia, sent a message that he urgently needed more horses for last night's Red Army battle scenes in Doctor Zhivago.
Granada shares have performed badly since the fiasco over Ondigital and Nationwide League football. And the days when millions could be lightly tossed away on lavish productions have long gone.
Cost-cutting is the watchword.
'Dammit,' someone on the board must have said, 'we let him hire four horses for the charge of the Tsarist Cossacks in episode one. And as four horses were sufficient for the Apocalypse it's surely enough for the Red Army, which had only just been formed, after all.' To their credit, Granada relented, allowing Campiotti (on my count) a dozen horses, thus enabling him, with far fewer resources, to rival one of the best sequences in David Lean's movie version of Boris Pasternak's epic novel of the Russian revolution.
Remember the pictorially magnificent scene with the Communist cavalry - with hundreds of horses - lined up on the fringes of a forest at dawn? Before them lay a great field of virgin snow, and on its far side, a regiment of boy cadets from a Tsarist military academy who were about to be slaughtered.
Campiotti switched things round.
It was now summer: in the forest were the Tsar's troops, known as the Whites, and hidden in a cornfield in front of them were Red Army partisans, including their press-ganged medical officer, Hans Matheson's Doctor Zhivago.
The partisans made short work of the opposition, mowing down men and horses with a machine gun. After the battle they gathered round the corpse of a boy soldier, his mother's picture in a locket round his neck. 'They're sending children against us now,' said the Red commander.
'It breaks your heart.' It certainly broke Zhivago's heart, along with subsequent scenes to rival Goya's Disasters of War, as the partisans rode on their well-fed Granada horses through villages from which the inhabitants had fled.
They found a pair of legs, minus a body, hanging under a barn, and a man with two limbs chopped off, leaving him to die in Zhivago's arms without the doctor's supply of morphine to ease his pain - it had been consumed by the commander.
The last straw for Zhivago was when one of the comrades, unhinged by the horrors he'd witnessed, shot his young children, who were travelling in a wagon with the soldiers, before turning his gun on himself.
Our poet-hero promptly walked away from the partisans into a blizzard, defying them to shoot him for desertion: the guilt-ridden commander restrained the man about to put a bullet into the back of the retreating figure.
Dramatic stuff, and scriptwriter Andrew Davies's ending for the story proved not greatly different from Lean's. Years later, in Moscow, Zhivago catches a glimpse of his strangely unaged lover, Lara, and their son, but before he can speak to her, he has a heart attack and dies.
No longer protected by Sam Neill's splendid villain, Komarovsky, she is arrested by the secret police, to die in the gulag like Zhivago's wife, Tonya (Alexandra Maria Lara), and their children.
_ DANIEL DERONDA, also scripted by Davies, has been a more conventional costume drama, sticking closely to George Eliot's 19th century novel, even if larded with sex scenes that would probably have shocked the authoress, broadminded though she was for her time.
SATURDAY night's third and final episode saw the death of the odious Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, so brilliantly played by Hugh Bonneville, who, along with Celia Imrie, also featured in Doctor Zhivago.
Grandcourt was seen off by his abused wife, Gwendolen (Romola Garai), who delayed throwing him a rope when the boom knocked him off their sailing dinghy on a day trip from Genoa, where they'd left their grand yacht.
Hugh Dancy's Deronda also happened to be in Genoa at the time - it's a small world - hearing his mother's explanation of why she had handed him over, aged two, to Edward Fox's Sir Hugo Mallinger to be brought up as an English gentleman. 'What better could a mother have done,' she pleaded, 'than release you from the bondage of being a Jew?' Deronda, almost too good to be true, forgives his dying mother, marries the Jewish singer, Mirah Lapidoth (Jodhi May), the longlost sister of his new friend and inspiration, the Zionist Mordecai (Daniel Evans), and sails off into the sunset with his bride to Palestine to help found a Jewish state.
Gwendolen was left behind, widowed, chastened and, thanks to Deronda, now devoting her life to being nice rather than nasty though still carrying a torch for him.
'I always thought I was the best of gamblers, but now I see I have lost in every way,' she lamented.
At a time when no one can doubt that TV is rapidly dumbing down, these two classic serials have transformed weekend viewing for less than a month.
How long is it likely to be, however, before ITV accumulates the money, and the plump and wealthy BBC the good sense, to realise that people need something permanently better than they are generally being given at the moment?
Exceptions such as Deronda and Zhivago do not disprove that standards are sinking. In fact, they only show up the rubbish in a sharper light.
Doctor Zhivago (ITV1); Daniel Deronda (BBC1)
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