UK Release Date: 13th August 2018
Runtime: 108 minutes
Director: Michael Radford
Writer: Michael Radford
Starring: John Hurt, Suzanna Hamilton, Richard Burton, Gregor Fisher
Synopsis: A disgruntled purveyor of fake news rebels against the regime when he falls in love with a fellow dissenter.
It’s a cliché at this point to gesture towards George Orwell’s 1984 as a reflection of the society into which we seem to be sleepwalking. Much of the first part of Michael Radford‘s movie adaptation – originally released, appropriately enough, in 1984 – sees John Hurt‘s Winston Smith calmly creating fake news on an industrial scale, while slogans like “war is peace” and “ignorance is strength” repeatedly appear. It’s a chilling opening that obviously points to what we now know as the regime of a very real, very mad leader obsessed with his own supremacy and enforcing his own brand of distorted media narrative.
With that new relevance in mind, it’s appropriate that 20th Century Fox is now putting Radford’s movie out on Blu-ray in the UK for the first time. Radford’s bleak evocation of Orwell’s iconic dystopia looks stunning in its grime in this new format. The movie is a difficult watch, and it’s probably true that there’s no way to do a perfect adaptation of this particular story, but Radford’s movie brings real texture to the world of Airstrip One. It’s a world without hope for the middle-class characters with whom we spend the film, separate from the ruling classes of the Inner Party and the blissful ignorance of the proletariat, who live without the threat of the Thought Police on their backs.
Thoughtcrime, and the turmoil created by attempting to prevent it, is a tough ask to depict on screen. Radford does a decent job, though, thanks to the performance of Hurt. He’s tremendous as Winston, who is initially quietly rebellious, but becomes more overt when he meets Suzanna Hamilton‘s Julia and begins a sexual relationship with her that’s as powered by the allure of shared insurrection as it is by lust. There’s little sense that they actually have much of a genuine connection, but that only further amplifies the idea of this as a world where emotion, much like scepticism, has been weeded out by the Party.
The film kicks up another notch when Hurt’s character is introduced to Richard Burton as Party torture maestro O’Brien. He’s calm, measured and utterly chilling as he speaks to the power of doublethink in allowing rational individuals to not just abide by the rules of the Party, but to actually convince themselves that they love Big Brother and everything he stands for as a figurehead. It’s in the scenes between Hurt and Burton – two acting legends sharing the screen – that 1984 stands out as a genuinely impressive movie, turning a thorny, difficult story into compelling big screen entertainment.
That brings the movie to its chilling finale, in which we see Hurt and Hamilton in their new, thoroughly broken incarnations. They renounce each other and show themselves as fully brainwashed devotees of Big Brother and the Party. It’s a final scene that suggests anybody, with the right persuasion, can be drawn into the lies and deceit of this regime. At a time when anyone with a brain in their head is trying to exercise their right to speak out against a dangerous leader, that’s a potent and terrifying message.
Pop or Poop?
More than 30 years after it was made and almost 70 years after its source material was released into the world, Michael Radford’s 1984 has only grown in relevance as the years have passed. The late, great John Hurt delivers one of his best ever performances as Winston Smith, with a supporting cast full to bursting with similarly impressive turns.
Radford’s visual style is chilly, cold and detached in every way and it’s this that makes the movie a difficult and occasionally awkward watch. It might not be as strong as the masterful Orwell novel, but it remains impressive.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
1984 will be released on Blu-ray in the UK from Monday, courtesy of 20th Century Fox.