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Doctor Zhivago
updated 3.15.2004

Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I was moved in many ways by this production of Doctor Zhivago. The casting was excellent (except for the role of Lara). I was literally chilled to the bone for about three hours after watching! The sound production was also quite effective. Best of all, as an earlier letter also noted, it made me want to read the novel again. I sincerely hope that it reaches young audiences and inspires their future involvement with the 'always interesting' programming on Masterpiece Theatre. Keep up the good work!

Teresa Hallman
Louisville, KY




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
All I knew about Doctor Zhivago before seeing the Masterpiece Theatre production was the tune and some words to Lara's Theme. With the occasional newsreel scenes as reminders of the historical setting, it was a most interesting production and adaptation. The deep choral music during the battle scene that ends with Yury being hit by a shell was haunting. Keira Knightley is a delightful Lara, if somewhat drier at times than Pasternak's text suggests. Hans Matheson is a very sympathetic Yury. I cheered for him from beginning to end. The book's bleak ending is sweetened by the addition of a love child, young Yury, to carry off the poems and narrate the sad ending.

William Weber
Waltham, MA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I saw Masterpiece's new version of Doctor Zhivago when it aired in November 2003, and I fell in love with the drama, the music, the storyline, the suspense and the emotion. I told my husband that we must watch this together. Normally I don't like seeing a movie over again, but this was an exception! Neither my husband nor I had ever seen the original and thought the Masterpiece Theatre version was the only one.

So, we rented Doctor Zhivago from the movie store, brought it home, watched it and were seriously disappointed. The original version is absolutely horrid! There are long pauses that fail to hold attention. In the original, the relationships between characters are vague and unexplored. The fate of Dr. Zhivago's wife and child (with Lara) are left up in the air.

In the new version, the story grabs your attention and holds on, the characters are better developed and there is a great deal more closure in every relationship through to the end. Every scene is more believable and elicits more emotion from the viewer. Even the actors and actresses are better looking than in the original cast!

We cannot understand why so many viewers are defending the original version so strongly. We are both in our late twenties, and suspect that older viewers who saw the original version years ago are emotionally attached and unwilling or unable to provide an unbiased, objective opinion of this new version. There is a big difference between the older, 'sixties style' of acting and the way acting is done today. As younger viewers, we expect more from a movie: higher quality acting, more realism, less left to the imagination, more plot closure and better connectivity between characters.

We can't wait to get our hands on this new version so that we can watch it over and over again! Bravo PBS!

Cynthia Cohen
Boston, MA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
When I found out that Doctor Zhivago was airing, I was excited. I'd heard much about the program and its popularity, so I anticipated a compelling story and a great production. Well, I wasn't disappointed! The music was excellent, and I was really impressed by the story and the characters. I was particularly taken by Yury and by his infidelity to his wife; that part of the story always made me so sad. Hans Matheson is a terrific actor; he plays a wonderful lead role. I am a bit disappointed, however, with Keira Knightley's performance. I was impressed with her in Bend it Like Beckham, but as an actress who is certainly making a name for herself, her performance here is kind of bland. To be honest, I feel there isn't anything remarkable in her portrayal of Lara, while Hans gives so much life to his character, perfectly portraying Yury's passion.

The ending is very touching, yet it breaks my heart at the same time. As someone who is not very familiar with the Russian revolution or Russian history, I was gratified to have a glimpse of it while watching Doctor Zhivago. It has definitely opened my eyes, encouraging me to actually take a course on Pasternak to learn more about his work and the historical context of his novel.

I haven't seen the 1960s version, but I guessed that when the new version aired, fans of the older version would probably be critical. Well, I haven't seen David Lean's movie, so I can't make any comparison. True, there was much sex, but didn't Russell Baker warn the viewers of strong sexual scenes during his introduction? Also, one can't deny that a new version is bound to have more sex scenes. I think the producers would want to gather new viewers besides the usual period drama fans. I don't necessarily believe that this is the best way, but there it is. Yury and Lara's romance was very passionate after all, wasn't it?

Also, I do not believe the violence was gratuitous. I would imagine that a mass riot would be very violent and bloody. The scenes were simply showing the severity of what took place. As with all novel adaptations or remakes, I prefer that the new version be different from the older version and from the novel. A different take on the story leaves room for interpretation and perspective. I think the waste lies not in a poor adaptation but in creating something too similar to the older version or to the book.

Jill
NJ




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I love Keira Knightley! It's so not fair that we can't all be as pretty as she is! She's also, of course, a phenomenal actress. Isn't she touching in this movie? I cried. She's my hero.

Emily Sundance
Toronto, Ontario, Canada




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I greatly enjoyed Hans Matheson's performance as Dr. Zhivago; I preferred his more youthful Zhivago. The production also brought more of an assertive edge to his character. The major disappointment was the casting of Keira Knightley, who does not yet have the range to play Lara. Her character was not nearly as appealing as the charming Tonya; she was great! Upon seeing the second half again, my boyfriend and I wondered why Yury would leave the sweet, kind, loving (and more beautiful) Tonya for Lara! This ending was more effective than the original movie. I cried harder than I have at a movie in a long time.

Kathryn
Chicago, IL




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I have very mixed feelings about Andrew Davies' adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago.

Pros include: Adding some much-needed backstory to give it a proper period feel (i.e., WWI, the Bolshevik revolution). Also, the cafˇ scene with Mayakovsky and Blok was a very nice touch.

Cons include: Bad casting. Keira Knightley was 16 when the film was shot, far too young for the role of Lara! Many other lead and supporting parts were also filled by actors and actresses who were much too young. The numerous (and entirely gratuitous) sex scenes (they're not in the novel), and the loss of the main storyline as a result. For example, Zhivago's poems are often referred to as love poems to Lara. In reality, most of them are about religious subjects. (Christ, the resurrection, etc. See the end of the book for more.)

I've enjoyed many of Andrew Davies' previous adaptations of classics, but Doctor Zhivago is appalling (and in appallingly bad taste, too). In the future, I hope for more films like Pride and Prejudice and Daniel Deronda, as opposed to this Granada co-production.

Ellen Collison
Arlington, VA




Dear Masterpiece Theatre,
I think the PBS production of Doctor Zhivago is fabulous. The actors are young and fresh, allowing the viewer to focus on the story rather than on the international film status of the actors, (no disrespect to Omar Sharif or Julie Christie). I cried at the end; it's so sad and so well done. Please re-air Doctor Zhivago soon!!

Cary Smith
Lexington, KY



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