It has been years and years since I’ve read the Orwell novel upon which this film was based. I won’t speak much to the source material, which suffice it to say is thought-provoking and still relevant (see the way that politicians–sometimes in cahoots with the media–employ talking points and language to twist public discourse and subvert abstract thought, e.g. “death panels”, or even the way history is constantly being rewritten–which is far too large of a discussion to get into here, so I’ll just link this).
That said, Nineteen Eighty-Four isn’t by any means my favorite novel of all time, and as time passes, the smaller details of the book have slowly drained from my memory, leaving me only with the more salient points. At any rate, what I will say is that I have a suspicion that Orwell’s book might be unfilmable.
Whatever the reason, this Michael Radford-directed production was very dull. It captured the dreariness of the dystopian society, perhaps, though I’m not certain how much else it managed to capture. Maybe nothing apart from the major theme of control and power. Much of the philosophical subtlety has been rung out of the narrative, with lots of unnecessary character subtlety substituted.
Radford’s direction is largely fine, and the production is competent, but this version of Nineteen Eighty-Four seems over-stylized–almost a throwback in some ways to German expressionist sensibility. I found it overbearing to the story, which was given short shrift.
This film is likely to befuddle anybody who has never read the source material, or anybody (like me) for whom the source material is only dimly remembered. Every scene, for example, of Winston Smith performing his job in the Ministry of Truth is practically indecipherable. Additionally, the recurring flashbacks to Winston’s childhood seem to be scattered pointlessly throughout the narrative and don’t teach you a whole lot about the character. I could go on, but I won’t.
Ultimately, I just didn’t care. There wasn’t enough information provided by the script to make me care.
I’ve read there’s an earlier television production, starring Peter Cushing, that might be a more successful adaptation. I’d like to see that some day.
[Edit: It’s on YouTube. I’ll give it a watch sometime.]