Melanie Williams
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Feminising the epic
Doctor Zhivago (1965), Ryan’s Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984)
in David Lean
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Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter and A Passage to India are assuredly epic in their monumental scale and expansive themes and yet they eschew the usual masculine epic hero. Films such as Ben-Hur, Spartacus, El Cid and indeed David Lean's own Lawrence of Arabia provided lengthy mediations on male identity and heroism. In Doctor Zhivago, women's allotted role is very traditionally conceived as inspiring love and poetry never writing it themselves and bearing children. E. Butler Cullingford and Fidelma Farley suggest that Ryan's Daughter presents a partial critique of colonial occupation. By the time it came to Lean's next epic production, Ryan's Daughter, the Oscar nominations had slunk down to four, the wins to two, and the critical knives were being sharpened. A Passage to India presents old age as a nihilistic state, a position helped enormously by an unsentimental performance from Peggy Ashcroft.

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