1984 (United Kingdom 1984)

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” There are plenty of evil forces in the world attempting to do just that. George Orwell’s 1984 is one of the most celebrated novels of the 20th Century . We have words like ” Orwellian ” that have come in to everyday modern usage. There’s at least two television shows, Big Brother and Room 101 who take their concepts from 1984. It seems logical that if someone was going to make a film adaptation of the novel then 1984 would be the perfect year to release it. It was even filmed between April and June, the period of the year the novel had been written. Unfortunately Michael Radford’s interpretation clashes between the good and the bad.

Radford’s visuals are superb and the tone sets the dark , gloomy , downbeat feel of the novel perfectly. Orwell used Stalin’s Soviet Union for much of the novel’s inspiration as well as 1940s Britain. The film’s set design is drab and retro and full of urban decay and squalor that Ingsoc has brought to Airstrip One, you can almost smell the rats and rubble and exploding rocket bombs . All this is helped in no small part by Roger Deakins bleak cinematography. Radford also makes good use of the news screens giving war reports on the crusade against Eurasia. Even the much criticized soundtrack by the Eurythmics seem perfectly suited to the film. John Hurt seems born to play the role of Winston Smith the middle-aged hero of the novel. Unfortunately Hurt isn’t given enough material to make the role as memorable as the one played by Peter Cushing in the 1954 BBC version because Radford the screenwriter is no Nigel Kneale. The problem with the motion picture is in the storytelling.

Many people would consider the novel unfilmable. Nigel Kneale managed to carry it off 30 years earlier but Kneale was something of a genius where scriptwriting was concerned. Radford isn’t . From the opening scene we see Winston, Julia and O’Brien at the public hate meeting . However both Julie and O’Brien are then quickly forgotten until much later in the film. The screenplay really does meander greatly at some points giving us flashbacks to Winston visiting a prostitute and Winston as a child. What’s to do with the plot? Nothing absolutely nothing but seem to be included for some reason known only to he editor. Likewise, Winston proclaims to Julia that he loves corruption and wants the whole world to be corrupt. What’s his motivation for saying this ? He’s done nothing on-screen that suggests he believes this. Perhaps the editor has taken out an important scene whilst keeping meaningless ones? Strangely, for a film containing so much full frontal nudity it seems strange that the classic line ” You’re only a rebel from the waist down” is missing!

Certainly the scenes in Room 101 could have done with a bit of trimming. Unfortunately, those of us who saw the 1954 BBC version will be disappointed by this version. The scene with Andre Morrell as O’Brien giving a soliloquy on the aims and method of the party is a piece of unforgettable television. There’s nothing really wrong with Richard Burton in the same role, but he probably needed a proper introductory scene in order to make the character work powerfully. If you’ve no knowledge of the novel you might have a problem knowing who his character is supposed to be. Overall then, this is a slightly disappointing production. Certainly it can’t be faulted by the suitably seedy visual look, which is highly impressive, but unless you’ve read the book you’ll probably be confused and bored long before the final scene.

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