Thursday, 17 December 2015

A Feast For The Eyes.

I drag Eldest to see Dr Zhivago. Actually, that's not true, there's no dragging. He’s fine with it. Loves films, as do I. So I’m in my element down on the Southbank with my boy: early evening, bright lights, black river, street food, beer glugged from the bottle. 

I booked the BFI because that’s where we saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, on the big screen, and it was great. So if it can make that palatable imagine what it will do with Omar Sharif. I’ll be climbing out of my seat with a knife and fork.

And it’s as good as I remember. Better. Okay, so Julie Christie’s a rotten tomato, and looks ridiculously 60s and wrong, but Omar Sharif, he's riveting up there, ridiculously handsome in close up, with deep brown, hungry eyes.

It’s an epic film, serving up vast swathes of history, landscape and human emotion in meaty episodic chunks, but I’m waiting for the pudding, which is unusual for me. Eldest enjoys the main, so, as with all good meals, there’s something here for everyone. If you haven’t seen it yet, here's a little to keep you going, an amuse-bouche...

It’s from the book by Boris Pasternak (1957), directed by David Lean, made on the back of the success of Lawrence of Arabia, it seriously pissed off the Soviet Union in the height of the cold war (mid 60s) and they banned it. Omar Sharif’s own son plays him as a child, briefly, at the top of the film. Michael Caine was considered for the role of Dr Zhivago (for God’s sake). It was made chiefly in Spain and Portugal, with those snow scenes from the train shot in Canada. Critics were disappointed when it came out (too much stress on the love story), but now it’s ranked 39th best American film of all time by the American Film Institute.

Zhivago is a doctor, a poet, a stunningly handsome man, a romantic hero with a capital R. And then there’s the music, Lara’s theme, on the balalaika. For me, though, it’s that bit near the end when Zhivago is desperate for one last glimpse of his lover and runs through the frozen house, the Dacha, up to the top, but the window’s iced over, he can’t see through, there’s panic haunting his eyes. Will he see her again? He breaks it: smashes the glass, and there’s the sledge with her in it, disappearing over the edge of the horizon. Gets me every time. From then on, until the approaching denouement, I’m teetering on an edge of my own. 

“See you in the lobby in a minute,” I say to Eldest, and I have to dash to the loo because I'm coming apart at the seams.

Despite the street food the boy's still hungry, so I take him to the Skylon bar in the Royal Festival Hall: two more beers and some chips for fifteen quid. But talking about films with my eldest son, there's no price for that.

After, we walk through the lobby to the exit, and I think how much I love it here: carpeted calm, the whole building a relic from a bygone braver world of optimism. We push through the doors, out to the drizzling dark, happy and chatty. Then Eldest says, hang on, he should pee before we hit the tube. 

“Okay," I say, "we’ll go back in.” 

But we’re spotted by a security guard, "This building is closed!" he shouts. "Get out!"

“Okay,” I say again, “hold your horses, we were just in here, we bought drinks. He’s only going to the loo.” 

But he screams over the top of what I'm saying, not listening. Eldest legs it, just runs to the Gents, with this crazy guard in hot pursuit, me even hotter behind, three figures sprinting across the floor. Quite funny in retrospect.

The guard follows him in there. Whoa! So I hold open the door, shouting for him to leave him alone. So where's she come from all of a sudden? This wild thing, out to protect her cub. I need to be able to see him.

After what seems an age, but is only a few minutes, they reappear, the guard still shouting, inches from my face, me shouting back for him to listen, which he doesn’t.

“It’s okay,” says Eldest, talking my arm, “calm down. Let's get out.”

I calm down. We head out across the lobby, shadowed by the guard, back into the night, passing the Nelson Mandela statue. No long walk for us, only a short way back to the Northern line, and home.

Love E x


P.S. Cold, snow, ice... looks so romantic on screen, perhaps not so much in real life.


  1. The film was probably shot in Spain (in part) as a foreign exchange dodge. An American company, Du Pont, made a lot of money in Spain but Franquist Spain wouldn't let them export or convert pesetas, so I was told. Du Pont then set up 'Dodge City' to film Spaghetti Westerns and the like in Spain, spending their pesetas on the filming, and then instead of exporting money, exported the rolls of shot film, no questions asked. I actually associate the film with little music boxes playing the theme tune rather than the epic story.

    Michael Caine as Dr Zhivago? I suppose if he'd been the original, then would Omar Sharif have had to make do with the Italian Job a few years later?

  2. Hang on a minute comrades, I've got a great idea... x