Doctor Zhivago at IMDb
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By Catherine Seipp
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 24 (UPI)
"Cambridge Spies," a five-part weekly miniseries starting Oct. 25 on BBC America, traces the long careers of Britain's notorious quartet of traitors - Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt and Donald Maclean - beginning with their idealistic days at Cambridge's Trinity College in the early '30s, when they were first recruited as Soviet agents.
"Dr. Zhivago," a two-part, four-hour version of Boris Pasternak's novel that begins Nov. 2 on PBS, is of course primarily a hauntingly sad and romantic love story ... but one set against the senseless violence of the Russian Revolution.
But just as "Cambridge Spies" makes clear that during the '30s it seemed that the only people fighting fascism were communists, "Dr. Zhivago" points out the good intentions that paved that particular road to hell.
As the broken revolutionary Strelnikov says bitterly towards the end, "I was going to make innocence and virtue compulsory."
"Everybody knows about the collapse of communism and that it was all no good," screenwriter Andrew Davies said about his adaptation of "Zhivago" at the PBS news conference in Hollywood. "Which makes one wonder, well, why the hell did anybody think it was a good idea?"
"The lives of ordinary Russians were so appalling under the Czars," Davies continued, "and I thought it was quite a good idea to remind people of the degree of idealism that went into the revolution before things all went wrong."
"Cambridge Spies" begins in 1934, a few years after "Dr. Zhivago" ends. At a time when Oswald Mosley and his British brownshirts were speaking admiringly of "Herr Hitler" and considered relatively respectable, communism seemed a reasonably attractive alternative to idealistic anti-fascists.
Section about Cambridge Spies deleted
Back to "Dr. Zhivago," which most people remember from the 1965 David Lean film rather than the 1957 novel - for which Pasternak won the Nobel Prize but was forced by the Soviets to refuse. (His work, in fact, was banned in the U.S.S.R. for decades.)
The original film is so iconic that if you've seen it, it's impossible to think of "Dr. Zhivago" without that famous "Lara's Theme" music running through your head. (The new "Zhivago" substitutes an eerie melody that is less hummable but closer to the melancholy truth of the story.)
And this PBS version really is far better than the visually spectacular but, frankly, rather uninvolving '60s film.
Keira Knightley, the "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Pirates of the Carribbean" star, was not quite 17 when she began playing Lara, who ages from 16 to 32 during the saga.
"Certainly it was intimidating stepping into an icon's shoes," Knightley said at the PBS news conference. "But it is a sad fact that nobody of my generation would go into Blockbuster and take out the David Lean movie.
"My dad fancied Julie Christie," Knightley added, "so when he heard I'd got the part, he thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever. I decided that I wouldn't watch the film, just in case I did anything remotely similar to Julie Christie. But I have read the book, about three times."
The PBS "Zhivago" may lack impressive crowd scenes and panoramic shots of trains crossing snowy steppes, but it also lacks (thankfully) the miscast Omar Sharif. And the absence of Lean's grandly epic vision is more than made up for in Davies's script by the more depiction of the characters and their relationships.
This new version has fine performances by Hans Matheson as Zhivago, Knightley as Lara - who although the camera loves her face as much as Julie Christie's, is a far better actress - and Sam Neill as the snakily corrupt Komarovsky.
"Now for some reason, people readapt 'Nicholas Nickleby' every two years and no one seems to mind," Neill pointed out. "This has been a long time between drinks, quite honestly. 'Dr. Zhivago' is one of the great novels of the 20th-Century, hands-down, and what is surprising to me is that it hadn't been readapted prior to this."
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