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Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984, John Hurt, Richard Burton)



This sharp adaptation of Orwell’s novel by director Michael Radford and Jonathan Gelns wisely avoids the temptation to decorate the story with modish science fiction trimmings and instead dates the drama back to the drab and dreary London of the late 1940s. As Time Out espied; ‘Radford sensibly aligns himself with Anthony Burgess’ suggestion that the film only makes sense as 1948, with its food rationing, its housing shortages, bad cigarettes and Churcillian slogans’.

The key casting is highly commendable. John Hurt, whose talent for bringing tortured (usually self-tortured) characters to life, was a perfect choice for the doomed rebel Winston Smith whose encounter with the totalitarian state can only ultimately lead to tragedy. And Richard Burton, in his last appearance on screen, is equally powerful and compelling as Hurt’s inquisitor-torturer, despite his relatively brief appearnce in the film. ‘He bestrides the movie like Big Brother himself”, said The Mail on Sunday .

Radford brilliantly evokes the Big Brother-dominated Oceania: a place of bomb sites, constant drizzle and slums dominated by huge and omnipresent TV screens exhorting hapless citizens, reporting military triumphs and celebrating endless statistics of armament and terrifyingly interfacing with Hurt. ‘The bleak architecture of the period and urban landscape devastated by World War II bombing raids are used to telling effect,’ said Variety , ‘with top-notch set-design and location dressing by Allan Cameron’.

production details
UK | 113 minutes | 1984

Director: Michael Radford
Writers: Michael Radford, Jonathan Gelns, from the novel by George Orwell

John Hurt as Winston Smith
Richard Burton as O’Brien
Suzanna Hamilton as Julia
Cyril Cusack as Charrington
Gregor Fisher as Parsons
James Walker as Syme
Andrew Wilde as Tillotson
David Cann as Martin
Peter Frye as Rutherford
Roger Lloyd Pack as Waiter
David Trevena as Tillotson’s Friend
Anthony Benson as Jones
Phyllis Logan as The Telescreen Anouncer (voice)
Garry Cooper as Guard