The 2002 ITV mini-series, Doctor Zhivago, was adapted from the novel by Boris Pasternak by Bridget Jones’ Diary writer Andrew Davies. This romantic/political drama set in revolutionary Russia follows Yury Zhivago, who witnessed his father’s death as a young boy. This leads him to be raised by his father’s cousin and his wife. As Yury grows and studies to become a doctor events in his life begin to take shape, and at times spiral out of his direct control. He finds himself tied up in political fighting when all he wants to do is practice medicine and write poetry. During all of this war and political changes he ends up falling in love with two women and must decide what is better for him; to stay with his wife and children or run away with his mistress. Now, of course, this is only one aspect of the story. There is much more to be experienced with the other characters as well.
The acting in Doctor Zhivago is wonderful, which should be no surprise considering the cast. It should be noted that Knightley was doing this performance at the ripe age of seventeen (and pre-Pirates of the Caribbean)! There is no over-acting or ‘TV movie performances’. It feels as if the actors took this just as serious as they would a big budget film, although it should be noted that in the United Kingdom costume dramas are taken very seriously. This, along with the writing and directing, create a mini-series that will not only entertain you but pull at your emotions as well. You will find yourself pulled in many directions, many times by the same character in different parts of the movie. You may want to set aside a good deal of time for this, although the mini-series is split into two feature length episodes, you may end up just watching them both in the same night, I did.
In this rendition of Doctor Zhivago actual footage from revolutionary Russia was incorporated into the series. This gives the mini-series an interesting feel. The footage, being in its original black and white, is woven quite well into the color footage of the series. This is done by showing the old footage and then when the footage from the series comes up, it begins in black and white and the color slowly fades in. Not only does it help to set the world in which these characters live, it creates this strange sense of realness, making it harder to separate the fiction from nonfiction.
Although the political aspects of the story are touched upon throughout the story lines, the romance is the main aspect. The truth is, the political aspects cannot be ignored even to the slightest, whether stated directly or through the decisions the characters make. Due to the nature of the times, all of the character’s lives are affected by the politics of the times. Their decisions and lives are tied to events, many of which do not even have anything to do with them directly. These politics also have an effect on how the viewer interprets the different events based on your feelings of the politics. So, each viewer could have a different experience from the other based on their political interpretation and knowledge of the historical events.
Acorn’s re-release of Doctor Zhivago includes the complete broadcast edition on two discs in one case as well as some great special features. There is an extra seventy minutes of cast and crew interviews which are split between the two discs. The first disc contains interviews from the four main cast; Hans Matheson (Yury Zhivago), Keira Kinghtly (Lara Guishar), Sam Niell ( Victor Komarosky) and Kris Marshell (Pasha Antipov/Strelnikov). The second disc contains interviews from the crew; Director Giacomo Campiotti, Writer Andrew Davies, Producer Anne Pivcevic, and Executive Producer Andy Harries. The special features on the first disc also contain a photo gallery, a biography of Boris Pasternak, and cast filmographies. Included as an insert is a glossary of the main characters.