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Happy Birthday Doctor Zhivago

Great love stories reflecting historic events have always fascinated people for centuries.  The Greek tragedies, Shakespeare and the great Hollywood drama’s always reflected the passion people had for those types of stories. ‘Gone with the Wind’, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘Titanic’ are all great examples of stories that people loved. ‘Doctor Zhivago’ is not only an example of in the genre but also has a great conception story.

The story about the life of a Russian physician and poet who, although married to another, falls in love with a political activist’s wife and experiences hardship during the First World War and the October Revolution, was written in the 50’ by the great Russian poet Boris Pasternak.  Unsurprisingly the Soviet Union didn’t approve the story. The censors stopped the story to be published. But by some kind of miracle arrived in Italy and became a huge success. After the success of the novel in the Western World, famous Italian producer Carlo Ponti decided to make the movie with his wife, Sophia Loren, in the lead role. After hiring one of the most famous director in the world David Lean, who directed ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and the ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’ decided Sophia Loren wouldn’t be believable as a virgin and casted Julie Christie instead. The Zhivago role was a different story. After Peter O’Toole passed on the project and Paul Newman and Max von Sydow circled the project, David Lean had to choose between Michael Caine and Omar Sharif. After he screen-tested the role, Michael Caine decided that Omar Sharif was more suitable for the role and left the project.

Being forbidden to shoot in Russia, the production created gigantic set in Spain resembling the Moscow of the 1910’s. The whole production was set in Europe, because even the winter scenes were shot in Finland.

The movie came out with mixt review, the critics found the movie too long and historical inaccurate. But the public adored the filmed and made it a box-office hit, making 111 million dollars. Adjusted to price inflation this makes 900 million dollars. Over time the movie has been restored in its greatness and is now seen as a classic of the Hollywood cinema.

We would like to leave you with this note: the CIA received images from the British in 1958 to use the book as counterintelligence in the Soviet Union. The CIA used books as weapons, if a work of literature was banned in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, it could be used as propaganda to challenge the Soviet version of reality. During the Cold War, 10 million copies of books and magazines were secretly distributed by the agency behind the Iron Curtain as part of a political warfare campaign.

Doctor Zhivago not only a romantic drama but also a potential spy thriller. A perfect way to celebrate a new year.

Stanley Berenboom

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