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 Friday, 22 November, 2002, 12:19 GMT
Zhivago and Deronda make shallow fun
Romola Garai as Gwendolen (centre, red dress)
Both adaptations focus more on the female characteres

A reported schedule clash between the BBC's Daniel Deronda and ITV's Zhivago eventually gave way but the two costume dramas seem alarmingly similar.

It was to be the great drama clash of the year: the BBC and ITV pitching their skill and reputation against one another as their two costume dramas aired at the same time.

Fortunately, the schedulers must have phoned each other one morning because the channels backed off: BBC One airing Daniel Deronda on Saturday nights, ITV1 screening Doctor Zhivago on Sundays.

Yet the much debated possibility of them fighting, coupled with the fact that they share the same screenplay writer and even some of the same cast means that they are inevitable targets for comparision.

Lara (Keira Knightley)
Andrew Davies' adaption sees Lara as the main protagonist
Bizarrely, though, when you do compare them you come to two seemingly irreconcilable conclusions: they are both very good and yet, they are both not.


You probably need to have read the books to see the problem immediately but whether you have or not you find your enjoyment somehow tempered by a sense of the author's voice interfering - and it is the voice of the screenplay writer, Andrew Davies, not the novelists.

Ignore the novels, ignore previous Davies dramatisations like the fabulous Pride and Prejudice and what you are left with in both new dramas is a rollicking fun ride with heady love, dastardly villains and heaving passions.

ITV1's Doctor Zhivago claims to be about the tortured, angst-filled life of doctor/poet Zhivago (Hans Matheson) but comes across as a tale about Lara (Keira Knightley), the woman he craves even as he is married and she is pursued by the evil Komarovsky (Sam Neill).

Gwendolyn (Romola Garai)
The viewer will care little for Gwendolyn in Daniel Deronda
Then BBC One's Daniel Deronda sounds as if it might be about Daniel Deronda (Hugh Dancy) but it is really more concerned with Gwendolen (Romola Garai) who is, once again, the object of Deronda's passion.

This take on the story is the most overt sign of screenwriter Andrew Davies's handling of the novels: both women characters are 21st century ones pasted into 19th century drama.


Only, they seem to have taken some 21st century television with them for, as you savour the fun of the opening episodes, there is the unmistakeable sense of soap opera or at least melodrama.

There is an absence of much depth that suggests these dramas will not stay with you.

Daniel Deronda is the better of the two in this respect but Doctor Zhivago is the easier to get into and they both make their plotting and especially their characters very clear.

You will not fret for Lara or Gwendolyn, you will not think about Deronda or Zhivago in between episodes and neither drama will shake you to your core.

Yet you will enjoy them, maybe even immensely, and it is a treat that they are not both on at the same time.

Daniel Deronda starts on Saturday at 2055 GMT on BBC One. Zhivago starts on Sunday at 2100 GMT on ITV1.

Which TV costume drama is best?

Daniel Deronda

Dr Zhivago

1825 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

22 Nov 02 | Entertainment
03 Sep 02 | Entertainment
03 Sep 02 | Entertainment
09 Oct 02 | Entertainment
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