50th anniversary

On location in Spain: Ten amazing facts about film classic Dr Zhivago

On location in Spain: Ten amazing facts about film classic Dr Zhivago
Film poster of the 1965 Dr Zhivago
To mark the 50th anniversary of the release of David Lean's romantic epic The Local reveals some little known facts about the film's links with Spain.

1. Director David Lean originally considered shooting the film in Yugoslavia, but close confidant Eddie Fowlie, who devised the movie's special effects, advised him against it following his own disastrous experience working with the communist authorities on a previous production

2. Incredibly, most of the snow covered scenes in Doctor Zhivago were actually filmed on location in Spain, and during the summer months.

3. Many key technical staff in Doctor Zhivago previously worked on Lean's epic Lawrence of Arabia, including Production Designer John Box and Eddie Fowlie. The director affectionately called his team 'dedicated maniacs'.

“Dedicated maniac” Eddie Fowlie retired to Spain's southern coast. Photo: Eddie Fowlie

4. The film's interiors were shot in Madrid's C.E.A. Studios on the way to Barajas airport. Not far from there the crew turned what had previously been a rubbish tip into a Moscow street as a set for the exteriors

5. To recreate the snow needed to cover vast stretches of countryside, Fowlie used tonnes of crushed, white marble dust. For the falling snow hard polystyrene billets were milled into shavings (thousands of sacks of the stuff were used), and to get the sleighs to slide through the snow in a realistic way, little roller skate wheels were fitted on the runners

6. At the time of filming in the mid-1960s Spain was under the fascist dictatorship of General Franco so you can imagine their surprise when extras were asked to march through the streets singing “The Internationale”, song of the communist revolution and also of Franco's Republican enemies during the Spanish Civil War.

7. Lean was well known for giving actors and crew a hard time. He fell out with Alec Guinness during the making of the film and the two would not work together again for another 20 years. Lean often had Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in tears, and he unceremoniously demoted camera operator Nicolas Roeg (he'd later go on to direct Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell to Earth). In his place, the role of cinematographer was handed over to the more accomplished Freddie Young, another of Lean's dedicated maniacs

8. The scene where a woman falls under the wheels of a train as she hands over her baby – a prop doll – to Sharif, was not in the script.

The actress was meant to jump aboard but tripped over and fell. Totally unperturbed by the incident, Lean decided to keep the shot in as it was far more dramatic (the woman wasn't badly injured, it should be noted).

9. The body of Yuri's mother in the funeral scene is not played by an actor, it's a waxworks… and the head was molded from Oman Sharif's own face. Young Yuri was also played by Sharif's real life son, Tarek, who was then aged about six

10. The film's most unforgettable set was unquestionably the ice palace in Varykino. Devised by John Box and executed by Eddie Fowlie, it was built in the Madrid studio.

The entire interior set had to be covered in ice, but that wasn't feasible or practical. Making use of his ingenuity, Fowlie covered all the furnishings with hundreds of rolls of cellophane, an ideal material as it could be crushed and flattened to create intricate shapes. He then boiled a cauldron of white paraffin wax, throwing cupfuls of it on the cellophane before spraying it with cold water. It was perfect for creating icicles. Last but not least, he covered the floor with salicylic acid powder – also known as aspirin – and soap flakes, which was difficult for the actors to walk on… exactly as it would have been with real snow

Richard Torne is co-author of Eddie Fowlie's memoirs, “David Lean's Dedicated Maniac – Memoirs of a Film Specialist” published by Austin & Macauley 

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