Adapted by Nigel Kneale (who would later develop Quatermass and its successors), 1984 was screened ‘live’ or transmitted as it was performed with a few short film sequences likely allowing for redressing sets. Featuring Peter Cushing as Winston H Smith, this is still regarded as the best adaptation of Orwell’s novel. Using limited resources and sparse props, furniture, etc, the impact of the story is credited to the actors such as Cushing, who, alongside Donald Pleasence, André Morell and Wilfrid Brambell. In particular, Yvonne Mitchell captures the essence of tragic romance in her portrayal of Julia.
Previously, I had only the modern film of 1984 to judge starring Richard Burton and John Hurt. But this feels far more horrifying and touching at the same time. Additionally, the ending is a kick in the stomach rather than a glimmer of hope as seen in the modern reworking of Orwell’s vision. The film is in public domain which unfortunately means that there is no deluxe edition complete with a making of documentary, etc. But it is also free for anyone to view (which is kinda ironic considering it is a warning of a totalitarian regime taking over free will entirely).
The production was a major stepping stone that taught the BBC they could produce strong science fiction content. This would lead to The Quatermass Experiment, Quatermass II and Quatermass and the Pit through the 1950’s along with A for Andromeda in 1961 and eventually Doctor Who in 1963. It’s interesting to see how all that got started here. and how simply it was accomplished (with no CGi or lavish budgets).
The reception to 1984 was nothing short of explosive, with one viewer claiming it caused premature death (just as the Michael Bay film Armageddon causes me to have stomach trouble). The slow build up of Smith’s acceptance of something more only to be crushed like a fragile creature is so beautifully crafted that I can only imagine the paroxysms it caused on that cold December showing at 8 PM back in 1954.
If you have the time, make sure to view this as it is well worth a look.