In an ice-encrusted abandoned dacha, doctor and poet Yuri Zhivago listens to wolves howling in the moonlight as he composes his verse. It's a romantic image of a man finding a brief peace both in his life and the fast-changing world around him.
After the blistering deserts of "Lawrence of Arabia", David Lean took on the harsh, snowy landscapes of Russia, its Revolution, and aftermath. Using virtually the same crew (even some of the same locations, with Spain doubling for Russia), "Lawrence" writer Robert Bolt adapted Boris Pasternak's classic novel.
At the heart of the story is the love between Yuri and Lara. The inevitability of this is suggested early on when, still unknown to each other, Yuri brushes past Lara on a crowded tram and we cut to a shot of the tram's electrical contact sparking on the power lines above. From there, we follow the relationship through the Revolution, marriages, wars, and other tragic events that constantly separate Yuri and Lara just when it seems as though they have found each other again.
It's not a flawless film: Bolt's screenplay is muddled in places, and Ralph Richardson overplays most of his scenes. This is countered by Omar Sharif's skilful portrayal of Zhivago as an efficient, practical man of medicine possessing the almost innocent wonder of a poet; while Lean's direction is fluid throughout, despite the film's three-hour duration.
"Doctor Zhivago" is David Lean's last great film and is sometimes unfairly criticised (though nothing compared to the roasting he received for "Ryan's Daughter" a few years later). Perhaps this is because it does not quite equal the quality of his previous works. Nevertheless, it collected a number of Oscars, made a fortune at the box office, and introduced the world to Maurice Jarre's memorable "Lara's Theme".