Doctor Zhivago at IMDb
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" PBS has Different 'Zhivago "
Keira Knightley, 18, excels as Lara, the woman who enchants three men.
By Tom Jicha
Andrew Davies' initial reaction to the notion of remaking "Doctor Zhivago" probably echoes that of many fans of David Lean's 1965 epic. "I thought it was an outrageous idea, because the previous film was really great," said Davies, who wound up having a change of heart and writing the script for the two-part "Masterpiece Theatre" production.
Davies has an impressive history with "Masterpiece Theatre." His adaptations for PBS' showpiece franchise include "Othello," Wives and Daughters," "Daniel Deronda" and "Moll Flanders."
Any reservations about taking on a new "Zhivago" dissipated when he re-read Boris Pasternak's novel, set during the Russian Revolution. "I found there was lots in the book that wasn't in the film that was open to a new interpretation," he said.
The new edition, at 9 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 9 on WFYI , might not be your father's "Doctor Zhivago" but it is a stunning success, a tender romance played against a historical backdrop of violence and cruelty. 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.
The production also got lucky in casting Keira Knightley as Lara, the hauntingly beautiful young woman who mesmerizes three disparate men, changing the courses of their lives. Having signed on to re-create the role originated by Julie Christie, she has, in the interim, become a hot property off summer triumphs in "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Bend It Like Beckham."
Lara is a role she says she would have jumped at in any case. "Acting is not a profession that you can say, 'Because I'm being offered jobs today, I'm necessarily going to be offered them tomorrow.' When 'Doctor Zhivago' came up, there was no way I was going to turn it down. No way at all."
Knightley, 18, handles with aplomb the challenge of playing Lara both as a teenager and as a woman in her 30s.
Lara is 16 when she first enchants Yury Zhivago, a medical student and poet, who sees her through a restaurant window. He's already involved in a relationship with his cousin Tonya, who was raised as his sister and will become his wife. She will never be the love of his life, however, because of Lara.
Hans Matheson's portrayal deftly peels away the layers of the complex Zhivago, who matures before the audience's eyes. In an uncanny coincidence, the surname of the actress who plays Tonya is the same as the first name of the character who ruins Tonya's happiness -- Alexandra Maria Lara.
The beguiling Lara also is on her way into a loveless marriage. Her mother, a dressmaker, is accommodating the voracious sexual appetite of her lecherous boss, Victor Komarovsky (Sam Neill). In a vile bid to curry additional favor, Lara's mother practically pimps her daughter to Victor.
Victor is a self-assured, treacherous chameleon, able to move successfully between the belligerent factions in the Bolshevik uprising. But like Yury, he behaves like a foolish adolescent around Lara.
Seeking to escape Victor, Lara accepts the proposal of Pasha, a political idealist. But he becomes a cold-blooded monster who embraces the new name of Strelnikov once he realizes that she loves Yury.
"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.
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