George Orwell would have been impressed by this film, I’m sure. It’s very close to the book, with a lot of the original dialogue, in suitably shabby, bleak settings. Basically it looks like the 1940s with better technology. John Hurt is a perfect representation of Winston Smith, haggard and thoughtful-looking. He actually bears a similarity to Orwell himself. The other stars are Richard Burton in his last role, as O’Brien (and Burton was tragically to die, aged 58, before the film’s release) and Suzanna Hamilton as Julia.
Having re-read the book last year, I wanted to revisit Michael Radford’s film, which I had seen a long time ago. I was struck by how good an adaptation it is, carrying the main points of the story while omitting the smaller details. Inevitably it will always be depressing to watch. The film begins with the Two Minutes Hate, in which the Party workers are shown propaganda and encouraged to vent their anger towards enemies of Big Brother and Oceania. I think this was a great way of introducing the background and themes of the story.
The ending is interesting. In the book, we are told that Winston loved Big Brother. Whether that’s true or not, we can’t tell – but can only go with what we’re told to believe. In the film, however, he turns away from the big screen and says, ‘I love you’. His back is towards Big Brother. Who is he referring to? And in the dust on the table, he writes ‘2 + 2 =’ and never completes it. There’s more ambiguity here than the book suggests.
It’s very neat how the film was made and released in 1984, in London too, an unmissable opportunity. It’s worth noting that the Eurythmics’ famous song ‘Sexcrime’ was used for the trailer, but not present in the film. I don’t think it would have fitted the atmosphere really, as the song sounds a lot more futuristic than the film looks (if that makes sense).
Low-resolution image sourced from IMDb.