Posts Tagged ‘keira knightley’

Stiva Oblonsky, Anna’s brother (Matthew MacFayden) and Kostya Levin, the 2nd major contrast to Anna (Domnhall Gleeson)

Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley): a cut off promotional shot (not in film) of her in a long red robe, filmed from afar (as described); she’s fulfilled the promise of Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of Carribean (2003), The Duchess (2008)

Friends, readers, if you see one extravaganza of costume, virtuouso acting, stunning shots, from a brilliant book, let it be Wright and Stoppard’s Anna Karenina. Stoppard and Joe Wright have translated Tolstoi’s masterpiece into a filmic masterpiece which uses a theater combined with far shots on location (contradicting what is led into and out of) and substituting stylized comedy and at times operatic rushes of scenes for Tolstoi’s realism, with a great deal of effective help from Keira Knightley (she ought to get the Oscar for this), Matthew MacFayden (is there a type left he has not played), Jude Law as Karenin (another actor who escapes typing and as the unimaginative yet intense and idealistic husband searingly hurt is not recognizable)

Law dissolves into the blackness of this brooding shot;

and luxury casting for minor parts (Olivia Williams as Stiva’s mother; Shirley Henderson as a very nasty woman at the opera who humiliates Anna for sitting by her in a box; Michelle Dockery as the frozen friend who will be seen with Anna anywhere, everywhere because society is all:


What made it was Stoppard’s use of the theater (to be expected from Stopppard, given his oeuvre) together with Wright’s Lawrentian sexual drenching and effective juxtapositions of crashing and still scenes. The film opens in a theater, ends in one; at the same time into the theater (which is again and again redone) is projected the most realistic of happening, people, animals events and they are used with striking insight and effect. Sometimes the characters are wandering about in a deep backstage where they meet other characters and suddenly the scene switches to a real house, or field, or street or the train. Then inside the theater Anna walks into a blended home environment and is asking permission of Karenin to visit her incorrigibly promiscuous brother, Stiva, in order to persuade Stiva’s many-timed pregnant wife, Dolly —

Kelly-MacDonald-in-Anna-Kareninathewifewho acceptsblog
After Anna goes to live with Vronsky, Dolly (Kelly Macdonald), says she wants to invite Anna to hers, but she does not — utterly conventional and kindly throughout and this a normative moment, common film-making

— to forgive him. Anna then walks out into a train, powerful real, a trip where she meets Vronsky’s mother. This first one ends suddenly someone throwing himself or be mistake getting caught under; we return periodically to the train station and of course end there is a terrifyingly held moment as she stands there just before the final leap.

Here’s a six-minute clip offered by Wright online to show his film: his theatrically staged sequence.

The film’s worst flaw is seen here: the wooden acting of Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky until about half-way through the film when he seems to become an electrifying center of whole scenes — as when he drives a horse across a stage too roughly, the poor animal falls with a crash, moans, groans, and as Vronsky T-J shoots the beast. The character is so real in the novel, so fully examined, as a very ordinary man whom the singular Anna is attracted to for his sweet easiness, congeniality. In Tolstoy, Anna’s guilt preys on her and makes her prey on Vronsky. Karenin has a depth of feeling, but is emphatically rigid once he sees his husbandly devotion goes for nothing with Anna. After conquest, Vronsky grows irritated as Anna becomes frantic with her losses.

Perhaps the film-makers thought this paradigm nowadays would not be liked so they made their Vronsky sustainedly in love. He is driven to throw Anna off when the society’s treatment of them and her suspicions of him because he is accepted and goes about with beautiful women still tear them apart. T-J may have been picked because he is nearly as beautiful as Rupert Freud (he was that type). Anna pretends not to care about the ostracizing, but she does. She misses her son. Where T-J is effective is after Anna (as it were) goes mad and he can match her inner wildness with a distraught aggressive sensuality.


So as the movie progressed, the whole experience of film-making may have engulfed T-J and he came up to it. He did what he needed to do in the scene where he furiously and meanly drives a horse to the ground and then shoots it to death. This is the most savage scene in the film and montage, placement, are intended in filmic ways to make a woman stop and think before marrying a man such as Vronsky.

Keira Knightley has become a great actress and Matthew MacFayden has again proved himself one as insouciant comic Oblonsky. She is actually somewhat heavier than she used to be. She now has upper arms. Her wardrobe is just spectacular. More than that it’s aesthetically right in so many scenes.

One stands out in my mind: she’s in a scarlet red robe standing by a window, everything else dusk or grey and white light. She’s smoking and staring out the window. Vronsky In some of the traumatic scenes beginning in the last quarter her face begins to take on a new look. You would not recognize her. I long to see it again the way I did her in The Duchess. I’d say The Duchess (based on Amanda Foreman’s take on the life of Georgiana Spencer) was self consciously feminist and that came out of the material adapted.

In the movie the material is proto-feminist: the point is made repeatedly that Anna cannot escape Karenin, she cannot take her child; it is she who is ostracized, she who is powerless to act freely. An emphatic contrast is made between her brother, Oblonsky whose casual adultery with a governess (of course fired) the film opens with; she visits his wife, Dolly (Kelly MacDonald) and with no trouble really gets Dolly to forgive him, and by the end of the film Oblonsky is back having affairs again. Neither his appetite or job is at all disturbed until the last moment of the film, when he and his again devoted forgiving and pregnant wife have Levin and his wife, Dolly, to stay with them. We see Stiva (of all people) grieving behind a door.

It’s quite different from Tolstoi’s novel, some of departures necessary to make a somewhat misogynistic religiously seen adultery accepted The primary moralistic Levin story in the book (it ends the book) is made tertiary in the film. Levin is sucha an other as Eliot’s Adam Bede. In Stoppard’s version Levin has much to learn from Kitty who when she first saw him was a shallow ancient regime flirt. Levin who works alongside his peasants (troubling them by so doing according to Tolstoi) would have ejected his alcoholic brother, who have been bankrupted by gambling, especially with his ex-prostitute wife. After Kitty realizes Levin’s “worth” and marries him, and comes to the farm, Kitty sponges down the brother with the help of this “whore” and she and her sister-in-law become linchpin types within a family and agricultural system. This is in Tolstoi (minus any concern for reform).

The medium itself throughout, reasserting itself: a theater:

Are we on stage? in the lobby? in a street with snow? it’s a fantasia


But for me Anna’s story is what matters: in Stoppard she is an open rebel at first — after meeting Vronsky; she is not a cow, not a sowing instrument. Both Tolstoy and Stoppard’s Annas want an individual life, companionship, conversation and yes good sex.

In these novels, a long period of erotic awakening turns into a similar slow burn of disillusion and then, despairing, self-destruction. Amidst this we keep our souls alive.

To know what you prefer, instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive. — R. L. Stevenson

Anna_Kareninathe dancingblog

In Tolstoi Anna does not stand for these principles — or they are presented as evil and perverse, unreal, disguises for sinful appetite. I read the novel as I do Lafayette’s Princess de Cleves where the princess has fallen for a Jungian animus. Vronsky is a type descending also from Austen’s S&S (Willoughby), and includes motifs like Trollope’s Burgo Fitzgerald’s cruelty to his horse in CYFG? signalling what he would be to a wife or mistress.

The whole paradigm originates in the 18th century and is usually presented as a warning lesson for the awakened woman. This is how Roger Shattuck in his Forbidden Knowledge sees it. He inveighs against the alternative view which urges women and men to liberate themselves. Recent women’s novels use the paradigm to show women’s lack of freedom, e.g.,. Sarah Waters’ (Affinity); A. S. Byatt’s Possession. When gone into personally with no imposed lessons it’s still verboten, and you can find women novelists using pseudonyms; one great one is an Italian novel, the pseudonym, Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment.

One long swoon


I expect that Wright and Stoppard are hoping to have this Xmas hit (remember The King’s Speech?), to win over Les Miserables. I did love the costumes and far shots. This is a favorite, again a cut-off shot from the Net but in the film we see a wide scene of a platform, snow, mist, hear the sounds, and then zero in on her in that outfit:



It’s not happening as yet in my local moviehouse. The theater was only half full. Why? it’s a woman’s story as told, not a man’s. Recently I’ve watched a series of films by women: Agnieska Holland’s The Secret Garden and Washington Square were among them. Again, both make explicit the tabooed point of view that is left implicit in the original text and by viewers sometimes overlooked or denied, with a far greater delicacy of approach. Here is a more delicate moment which might make us remember a cutting painful scene in Emma: Wright and Stoppard opt for playfulness; Levin and Kitty try to reach one another through alphabets:

Kitty (Alicia Vikander) and Levin

What makes this a male film out of a male book? In Tolstoi is the great sympathy Wright gives the conventional male (that’s why Levin survives into the film too). In this clip that Wright authorized on line we have both males, Vronsky and Karenin; in Tolstoi it’s Anna who is contrasted to Levin; here the contrast is Vronsky (macho promiscuous male) versus Karenina (Mr Knightley under great strain in an amoral court world). The film ends with Levin and his wife sitting down to dinner with Oblonsky (who has to retreat for a moment) and his and Karenina who ends up in the meadow with his and Vronsky’s child, with Anna under the ground.

Shall we feel for male who holds society up, Karenin or the male who disrupts it, Vronsky? and it’s not fair that Stiva, however he loved his sister, gets away with it. (D. H. Lawrence stuff; see also Atonement). By contrast, Tolstoi’s book is with Anna (ultimately the most moral character in the book) and Levin (the second most, on a conventional plain) as his tragic and hard-working poignant cynosures; they are sincere, authentic. They do not resign themselves like Oblonsky’s wife Dolly.

It is a woman’s film because it dwells on women, how they look, we are invited to gaze at them again and again as women and as men.

I’ve never read the whole novel. As with Moby Dick where I skipped alternative chapters: I was so irritated by Levin I passed all chapters with him as focus. That left me with a much slenderer novel, half the structure. I’m also not sure whose text I read, who was the translator. Nowadays that makes me ashamed — not the reading every other chapter.

This film makes me want to read the whole novel, slowly, or listen to a great reader read it. Does anyone know of any powerful great reader who has done this on MP3s available generally?


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Sam Neill as Komarovksy and Keira Knightley as Lara; last scene together, the coach, she reluctantly driving away from Yuri (Dr Zhivago, 2001)

Rod Steiger as Komarovksy and Julie Christie as Lara, early scene together, elegant courtship (Dr Zhivago, 1965)

Dear Friends and readers,

It’s been more than a week since I last wrote a blog: Christmas, New Year’s and a trip to Philadelphia to attend the MLA conference have intervened. Still far from forgetting my project to watch as many Andrew Davies movies as I could in December, I remained more constant to my pleasure — for he has won me over. For example, while I was at the MLA the way I coped with the long nights was to watch the whole of Davies’s 2009 Little Dorrit. It got me through: it’s very long for one of these recent adaptations, 2 one-hour parts (the first and last), and 12 half-hour ones inbetween, each with a different set of differently mixed trailers reminding us of different threads in the various episodes as well as looking forward to what’s to come.

As of tonight, I’ve now watched 21 Davies movies and written three blogs here, and one on Reveries under the Sign of Austen! If my strength and memory (and ability to capture or find appropriate stills) holds out, I mean to 4 more blogs on Davies’s films: 1) this one comparing his and Anne Pivcevic’s Dr Zhivago to David Lean and Robert Bolt’s famous 1965 film; 2) one just on Anthony Trollope’s powerful but alas not well-known tragedy and farce about sexual anxiety in a modern world combined with a Barsetshire-like romance, He Knew He Was Right; 3) one bringing together Davies’s Bleak House and Little Dorrit (out of two enormous later Dickens’s novels); and 4) one on two recent acclaimed novels adapted, both about central gay/homosexual characters, adaptations of Sarah Walters’s Tipping the Velvet and Allan Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty.

Davies’s Dr Zhivago is a masterpiece of a film adaptation where he boldly seeks to improve on his famed predecessor’s film at the same time as interact intextually with it so as to broaden and deepen our understanding of the sexual explorations and political themes of the original book (and even improve on these). He joined with Anne Pivcevic for this project (as he has done since), and the two of them sought a director who would be willing to try to reconceive the movie. In the interview on the DVD they tell of not being able to find a British director who would openly discuss his or her views of Lean’s films.

Lean opened with an intertitle and musical overture

So they went for a relatively unknown Italian director, Giacomo Campiotti, who had done two art films, and in this interview claims he loved and knew the book well before taking the project on. If not, he read it intently before doing the movie, and came up with his own ideas for visualizing and dramatizing the book. Davies says it took a long day of persuading for Campiotti to accede to Davies’s ideas in the screenplay.

How nervy and bold Davies is: he will deliberately repeatedly choose a book for a film where a previous film has been hailed as an unbeatable great translation, and try — and sometimes succeed in — bettering it. He usually (as here) also has his film evoke and play upon scenes in the previous film. He sometimes seeks to replace the previous film in public memory. Examples here include his 1995 Pride and Prejudice (outdoing Fay Weldon’s 1979 admired feminist mini-series) and the 1998 Vanity Fair (turning the dark drama of the 1987 Baron mini-series into brilliant caricature and satire). More like his and Pivcevic’s Dr Zhivago is their 2008 Sense and Sensibility where they challenged the 1995 big winner by Ang Lee and Emma Thompson on its own melodramatic landscape grounds, primarily by including so much that was omitted in the earlier film and reconceiving the heroes yet further.

Opening scene of Davies’s film: the train has already passed; this is an invented scene of the child Yuri chasing down his father’s corpse in the snow

Lean opens on a long slow hieratic scene of Yuri’s father’s funeral from the child’s standpoint

Davies and Pivcevic’s 2001 Dr Zhivago is even an anti-Zhivago, anti-the previous film. Pasternak has a complicated political vision well beyond what is found in the 1965 film. I did love both films, and have written another blog (since this one) where I do justice to Lean’s strong graphic visual sense and memorability and treat the intertexutality more at length.

Here I will concentrate first on how Davies did improve or deepen the characters in some ways and the films in relation to the book.

For my birthday I got a cover-to-cover reading aloud of the whole of Pasternak’s book on CDs (by the actor, Philip Madoc), so I can then appreciate the book’s complexities. Pasternak meant (among other things) to characterize totalitarian dictatorships as such, to show us the cruelty, absurdity, moral stupidity and blindness of public marketplace life with its ruthless ambitions, and contrast this with personal feelings that nonetheless flourish as real motives for what is done rather than hypocritical platitudes. In 1965 his book was used by the establishment at large to celebrate capitalism. A feature presentation on the 1995 DVD of the 1965 film showed what was what was understood at Radio City in the first showing and politics around Pasternak’s refusal of the Nobel after his book was first published in Italian translation in 1958 and English in 1960.

War scene from 2001 Dr Zhivago

By contrast, the 2001 film is liberal and leftist, and, especially profoundly anti-war. War is intensely awful — not heroic, but filthy, cold, dangerous. A recent article in PLMA argues all films of war cannot escape at least making it alluring through excitement and aggression, but it’s clear this is not what is meant or felt here. When ordinary soldiers try to desert, they are shot, and shot quicker if they say we are fighting the wrong people, This is not our fight. We should be fighting our landlords not the Germans. What counts is not vile miserable death but cooks and people who serve the men. Zhivago and Lara are explicitly made heroic as medical people. What emerged from Davies’s film (not unexpectedly) is a valuing of humane individuals and a dislike of generalities and distrust of all institutions.

Lean and Bolt’s Dr Zhivago sets up a central contrast between personal life and how what you experience personally should be central, trump all that happens politically. The problem was the dialogue is stilted and absurd, and the three famous central actors (Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, and Rod Steiger) never seemed to lose their star identities and become the Russian characters. Davies openly talked of this stiltedness, the unwillingness of the 1965 film to present Lara’s sexual desires for Komarovsky and his glamorous world openly so she remains vague, almost (but caught himself) the wooden performance of Shariff in the first half; Sharif really comes into his own in the second when he can play Yuri as peasant, fugitive, and desperate support of others

Tonya and Yuri are in their ice-cottage, she pregnant, knowing he has another beloved in the nearby town.

Davies also refers tactfully to the two-dimensional if crackling villainy of Steiger’s Komarovsky. As Christie was not allowed to show a young woman’s confused desires this way, so the older man’s intense desire for a young girl and his vulnerabilities were kept from us in the earlier conventional interpretations.

Lara’s peasant husband turned revolutionary and then rigid Bolshevik, Pasha, in the 1965 film (a young Tim Courtney) was made into a naive and murderous fanatic which fit the anti-communist rhetoric of the film. The costumes are just unconvincing. Christie is a 1960s girl.

Sharif as elegant suave doctor

Christie and Sharif as themselves

Steiger as a 1940s kind of US gangster with girl-child, Christie

In Davies’ film Neill becomes obsessed with the younger woman after having a believable affair with her mother. Sam Neil’s performance given the new conception (far more rounded, believable, human) of Komarovsky was superior.

Neill as Komarovksy, a man with his own obsessions

He has a dog he’s fond of

Hans Matheson’s Yuri was moving because openly more emotional and sensitive; he was yet another of Davies’s hurt sensitive men and Matheson’s performance anticipates that of Dan Steevens as Edward Ferrars.

Mathesen as Yuri contemplative

The vulnerable Yuri, in need of support

Compare this steely one of Omar Sharif as Yuri

In the 2001 film Pasha (Kris Marshall) is made humane and understandable; we are shown how he is gradually led to distrust others, to retreat into himself; he is an instance of strong idealism under the experience of being an outcast and oppressed who is shocked by how the instruments of the upper class are willing to kill their fellows. As someone betrayed radically, he betrays himself:


the ruthless inhumanity of the czar’s militia and personal hurt and loss of Lara later turns this well-meaning young man into stone:

To be fair, Lean relied on larger political iconic scenes to get these kinds of meanings across:

Tim Courtney as Pasha turned Boshevik (with a new name) accusing Yuri in trumped-up court scene

I was surprized by the corniness and melodrama of Bolt’s screenplay. I have the highest regard for Bolt from studying and teaching his masterpiece play and film, A Man for All Seasons, a number of times. I suppose that he was led to stick to the original Victorian-type sentimental melodrama of the book when it came to dialogue. The characters who most dissolved into Pasternak’s were the allegorical ones who began and ended the film, Alec Guiness as Yuri’s brother, talking to Lara’s child (Rita Tushingham) so the whole film becomes a single flashback which at the close reverts to “present time.”

Also Geraldine Chaplin as Tonya, Yuri’s long-suffering patient wife.

I came closest to tears from Ralph Richardson’s touching performance as Tonya’s father, but unfortunately can find no shots of this fine actor. One problem with using stills I find on line is so few are of landscapes which are often so central to the experience of a film, few are of the older characters who are as important as the “glamorous stars.”

Among Davies’s many strengths is his ability to write naturalistic dialogue that both conveys the original sentiments of older books and also gives them a modern turn which speaks home to the modern reader’s own intimate memories. He did it here again. Tonya (Alexandra Maria Lara) was given a much smaller role, and placed within a deliberately normative setting:

An establishment shot for Tonya’s coming out party with Yuri as her escort

The two going in

Again the father (Bill Patterson) was a moving figure. Celia Imrie as Lara’s mother was made more believable and her attempted suicide spelt out.

Komarovksy in bed with Lara’s mother

Lara has become Komaroksky’s mistress and the mother is left out, bitter, the daughter, remorseless

An understandably bitter socialist co-worker of Lara, Olya Demina, played by Anne-Marie Duff was built up; it is she who takes Lara’s child at the close of the film.

Olya (Anne-Marie Duff) first seen as fellow seamtress; Lara (Knightley) coming in to work from the back

Olya (Anne Marie Duff) and Pasha (Kris Marshall) on the streets, fighting oppression together

Both films made a strong use of landscape. Lean’s uses are austere; he makes heavy use of long shots in this and the film’s catchy score were its central strengths. It was a pictorial epic and many of the vignettes spoke home allegorically. The frames are carefully composed and symbolic; the houses and furniture and mise-en-scene of all the places provides much meaning.

The first long shot, huddled group of individuals at a funeral who gradually become individuals to us

The idea was somehow to suggest eternal memory and these harsh suffering scenes something which recurs.

This last one of Yuri, Tonya, and family getting on the train rings out as everyone’s in war

Folk music plays a part here. I remembered them for decades afterwards and reviewing the film found them powerful all over again. I hummed the music for days once again.

Davies combined landscapes today with footage of the revolution at the time so the latter become more believable; he added flashbacks so as to embed memories into the dual kinds of footage. He has a character in the film taking photos at the time to explain why we have them now; this character becomes the vantage point through which the film switches to the 1914-17 footage. So the past really seems to bleed into the present film. At the same time Davies makes these killing scenes more realistic or intimate with dialogue mid-shot scenes of our characters caught up in these larger historical events.

The 2001 films also has beautiful music — soothing, tragic, classical in feel. And yes, close-ups and mid-shots where Lean had long shots:

Yuri mid-shot

Lara mid-shot

Davies does like to put his characters in erotic tub scenes

The 2001 film began with Yuri as a child (Sam MacLintock) overlooking his father’s corpse as a suicide; it ended with the same young boy actor playing Yuri and Tonya’s son running from the police after his father is buried. The conventions of TV are at play in this opening (families are the central interest of just about all TV programs, even modern variety shows) and in this conventional shot of Yuri as brave soldier:

At the same time, Davies’ film had less hope than Lean’s which ended with Guiness and the new child become an adult walking off. The 2001 film shows Lara first choosing to go off with Komarovsky knowingly, then sickening of him; she never gets near Yuri alive again, only approaches him in his casket and is then taken away by police to a prison camp the last scenes.

While I feel Davies picked this film not because of the book but the previous film, he did make me want to know more about Pasternak, and I pulled down from my shelves my old battered (and still unread) copy of Dr Zhivago. Looking through it, I could see Pasternak was not able to protect his book at all. He died two years after it was published in Italian for the first time, and until very recently, when a few scholars have made it their agenda to try to produce decent copies of the novel, it came out in debased forms, no translator mentioned, no care for the translation. He never made any money from that movie :). In the 1995 DVD Sharif provides the narrative for a feature which tells you the real Lara spent decades in a prison camp.

My first old copy is abridged and the translators not credited. It took a while for me to find a new edition with a decent cover illustration (no debasing comments glaring at you) to buy. When it came, I was relieved to find the translators are named and the text whole and unabridged; some criticism included and the poems at the back (attributed to Yuri) explained as Pasternak’s and properly edited.

Reading these poems Lara is blonde, but in the book she is dark-haired. I did feel in both movies the actresses chosen were chosen to be eye-candy for the males. The 1965 film is especially egregious in its masculinistic take on women’s sexuality. Neither (necessarily blonde) actress has the ability to project intense complicated trauma-like emotions. To be fair, Knightley was not quite up to doing the older Lara, but terrific as the young resentful confused child-woman allured by Komaroksky, then frantic to get rid of him, and finally wanting to kill him.

Reading some of these (not all use snow and winter, some are situated in other seasons), and looking into the matter a bit more, I realize Leans’s interpretation of the complaints against Pasternak’s poety at the time it was published is skewed. Pasternak was accused of “anti-socialability;” that’s very different from setting up an opposition (as Lean does with Davies following this) between the “personal life” and public life. “Anti-sociability” is the old accusation of average people against readers, writers, anyone who wants to spend time seriously and (alas) would become prevalent in movements where mass pyschology is made a standard.

Here is just one; this translated text is by Guilbert Guerney:

Encounter by Yuri Zhivago

The snow will bury roads,
Will cover the roofs deeply.
If I step out to stretch my legs
I will see you from the door.

Alone, in a fall coat,
No hat and no snow boots;
You are trying to be calm,
Nibbling your snow-wet lips.

The distant trees and fences
Recede into the murk.
You stand at the corner
Alone in the midst of the falling snow.

Water runs down your scarf,
Inside your sleeves, your collar,
And melted snow sparkles .
In dewdrops on your hair.

And a flaxen strand of it
Lights up your face, your scarf,
Your bravely erect figure,
That wretched coat of yours.

Snow melts upon your lashes.
Sadness is in your eyes.
And all of you seems fashioned
Out of a single piece.

It is as if your image
Were being etched forever
With burin and strong add
Upon my very heart.

Nor can your submissive features
Ever be burnished off.
And so, what does it matter
If the world is stonyhearted?

And so, this night is doubling itself
With all its murk and snow
And I cannot draw a line
Dividing you and me.

For who are we, and where from,
If after all these years
Gossip alone still lives on
While we no longer live?

I particularly like the last stanza and the use of snow; the wretched coat reminds me of Gogol’s “The Overcoat” which I read this year when I taught Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.

The most popular promotional shots (iconic, guarded, silhouettes) show that the film-producers and distributors thought the film would attract by its central story of a lone poet and his idealistic love of two women (Tonya, his wife, Lara, his mistress), but rather the subversive story of Komarovsky with Lara as his hard mistress,

Keira Knightley as Lara, Sam Neill as Komarovsky

a touching love between two handsome open people,

Omar Sharif as Yuri, Julie Christie as Lara

and insistence on a conventionally virtuous woman, Tonya (who by the way survives to go to Paris in both films):

Geraldine Chapin again as Tonya

There is a section of informative perceptive pages on Davies’s and Pivcevic’s Dr Zhivago in Sarah Cardwell’s Andrew Davies (Manchester University Press, 2005, pp. 160-175) to which this blog is much indebted. The best place to grasp the aims of the Davies, Pivcevic and Campiotti team is to watch the feature on the 2001 DVD Dr Zhivago. It’s there you can see Davies means to improve on Pasternak too — has great faith in film as a high artistic medium. To understand the historical background and real people of the film’s story watch Sharif’s intelligent mini-documentary that accompanies the 1995 DVD of the 1965 Dr Zhivago: both films are serious attempts to make statements about history, present history through film. In addition, Kevin Brownlow’s David Lean: A biography of the director of Dr Zhivago, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Lawrence of Arabia has a thorough-going discussion of the filmic techniques and aims of Zhivago as one of Lean’s telling landscape films (as the subtitle of Brownlow’s book suggests).

As I rewatch both alternatively, in the end I can’t tell which film I prefer, only that Davies’s has strengths I really love (the psychology of the characters and dialogue) and Lean’s is a daring symbolic masterpiece. The inadequate depiction of Lara and her mother in the 1965 film shows how women at the time were allowed just about no subversive desire for real, especially as a girl, and the attempt seriously to present history through film in both cases is of real historical significance to film studies people.

For a blog on the novel, see Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago: an apolitical political novel for our times.


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