I have seen only three films of BAFTA winning director Michael Radford, of which his 1984 adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984” is undoubtedly the best. I’ve yet to see his more acclaimed “Il Postino” though, and my opinion might yet change after viewing it.
“Nineteen Eighty-Four” however is one of the more faithful adaptations of a novel I’ve ever seen – even if a few chapters and events are skimmed past (understandable), it vividly captures the tone, atmosphere and message of the novel in all its muck and glory, just the way you imagined it while reading the book. I believe that’s partly because Radford doesn’t treat the work as science fiction even if ironically that’s the way Orwell intended. The screenplay and production design portrays this more as a political satire set during a proto-cold war period – i.e., just after the second world war, with its then technology and know-how – the time when Orwell actually wrote this novel. The casting of the main characters couldn’t have been any better – the choice of John Hurt, Suzanna Hamilton, and Richard Burton (this was his final film) incredibly fit their respective characters to a dot. The cinematography and lighting is imaginatively thought out with some interesting camera angles and colours to capture the utter despair and foreboding. Add to that, we have an atmospheric soundtrack by Dominic Muldowney (and Eurythmics) that give the film added gravitas. As a literary interpretation and a piece of cinema, this is an unqualified triumph for Michael Radford and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Storyline: (For those who’ve yet to read the book)
After a third (atomic) World War, the world map changes radically – now made up of three authoritarian superstates, Oceania (of which Britain and the Americas are part), Eurasia (continental Europe and Russia), and the more recently formed Eastasia (China, India and others). The story takes place in Oceania, ruled by the mysterious ‘Big Brother’ (BB), where Winston is a civil servant in the Records department of ‘Minitrue’ (Ministry of Truth – among other things it monitors and decides what gets published, and in what form). He meets Julia, from the ‘Porno Section’ of the Fiction Department during one of their daily collective ‘Hate’ gatherings, falls in love, and embarks on a secretive affair. Or so he thought – for he should have known, BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING!
By the way, George Orwell’s “1984” is essential reading for everyone, no matter what their political leaning. It is also well written, thought provoking, and compelling, tinged with the sense of encroaching horror. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s about time you did!