The story is told of a young boy named Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif). It's Czarist Russia at the end of the 19th century. Yuri is orphaned at the age of 8. The family Gromyko adopt the boy. Now they are upper class for the day. The boy does not want for anything. He will grow up and marry the daughter Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin). Yuri will also become a Doctor but in general practice. He wants to be involved with the people he sees.
WWI will break out and Yuri will be posted to a hospital where a woman by the name of Lara (Julie Christie) will also be stationed. Now the two have seen each other before at functions but it is at the the hospital where they will learn of the love between them. They have not acted on this love and when the war ends and they head home, much has changed. The 1917 the Bolshevik revolution has taken place. Yuri goes to his family home to find others living in it due to the local government.
Yuri will live there for some time and one evening he is spotted by a policeman steeling some fence posts to burn. It turns out the policeman is his half brother Yevgraf (Alec Guinness). Knowing that Yuri is a published poet and that his works are out of favor with the authorities Yevgraf arranges to move Yuri and his family away from any trouble. On to their destination Yuri runs into Lara's husband who is now a Peoples Commander but rather than arrest Yuri he let's him go. The family arrive to the estate but find it boarded up by the local authorities. They can stay in the guest house.
Yuri has always been thinking of Lara but has not seen her for some time. He will later run into her and she will care for him, but it is a tragedy from the beginning. A romance that is meant to never be long lived.
Director David Lean has given us a romance of the film that has endured time. The back drop of the rise of the Bolshevik's along with the end of Czarist Russia lends a romance of the old world. A time that will never be seen again. A bitter sweet love affair that can only end one way.