As a love story, Zhivago is pretty weak: The two lovers (played by Sharif and Christie) are not convincing in conveying passionate and irrepressible desire. What’s more, David Lean is not a poet of the heart; his depiction of lovers is sophomoric (Summertime might his best handling of that theme).
What he can do, however, and where his genius lies is in making the screen come alive with precise physical detail. His recreation of Bolshevik-era Russia is magnificent: it feels astonishingly real, like the screen itself might’ve frozen over around the edges if the shot held a second longer. Beautiful cinematography by Freddie Young and set design by John Box, together with excellent performances combine to form Zhivago’s timeless appeal–this, as far as I know, is Omar Shariff’s best remembered role; Julie Christie, so sensuous and demure at once, can make a guy break out in a sweat; and Rod Steiger as a cad who becomes the lovers’ dubious benefactor is terrific. An entertaining saga, though not wholly convincing and involving.
Directed by: David Lean
Screenplay by: Robert Bolt
Cast: Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness