JT Film Review

107 – Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

Nineteen Eighty-Four REVIEW

3.5/5 stars

Director – Michael Radford

Cast – John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, Gregor Fisher


1984 is an adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel. Directed by English director Michael Radford, several scenes were famously shot on the actual day they were written to have occurred in the book.

The lead character, Winston Smith, is played with downtrodden perfection by noted English actor John Hurt. This film is his story, as he goes from a disquieted laborer under the oppressive regime of The Party, to a wannabe revolutionary. The antagonist, O’Brien, is played by Richard Burton (in his last film performance), and Smith’s “love interest” (though to use such a term is dangerous of giving the wrong impression) is played by Suzanne Hamilton. English character actor Gregor Fisher also appears as Smith’s neighbor.

The story of 1984 is famously dark and frankly quite depressing, and as such the tone is kept effectively bleak. The element of satire/warning keeps the movie from becoming totally dry, but it does struggle against this in the third act. The acting can be a bit dry as well, mainly with John Hurt. I think he would have been more at home in the classic British acting style rather than the more modern method-type, but his stillness and considered manner do fit with the character rather well, so we mustn’t nit pick.

The film unfortunately falls into the trap of assuming the audience knows the book. This results in some fairly key elements not being explained. What is Winston’s job? If we have read the book we know that he rewrites old newspaper reports, etc., so that they fit with the current views of the Party. However, here a first  time viewer just sees Winston muttering away in some strange language while looking at pictures and then firing off little tubes down what looks like a garbage chute. While it is true that Winston rarely speaks too much in the book, there was so much in the book  explaining about Double-Speak (the Party’s prefered way of talking, where the English language is paired down to its bare bones), explaining about the Party and its methods, etc., that is just not supplied here. We are shown events happening with no explanation, potentially leaving the viewer confused.

While the first two acts are fairly well-paced and feature some iconic images, the third act does dip in quality when Winston is captured by the Party and interrogated for his rebellious thoughts and actions. Unfortunately these scenes drag considerably, with much pointless repetition of shots and ideas. This bogs the movie down when it should really be moving to its quick and inevitable conclusion.


Nineteen Eighty-Four follows the book very well, perhaps too well. By leaving a lot of the dialogue intact and neglecting the explanation of the world we are shown, we don’t get the full impact of the story and Orwell’s point. The acting is excellent (especially Richard Burton and John Hurt), and the grimy world is perfect for this story, but a bit more clarity would certainly have helped. Sometimes it seems that things are left out so we’d have to read the book just to understand the film. Radford seems to mistake  confusing his audience for narrative complexity, and that is a dangerous road to start travelling down (a path which hurt the recent Inception). I do recommend this, as the acting and tone rise to great heights, but because unclear story-telling drag the movie down quite far, I have to recommend it mainly to those who have read Orwell’s book.



“Nineteen Eighty-Four” on other websites:

IMDB —– Rotten Tomatoes —– Wikipedia



September 1, 2010 - Posted by | 3.5 Stars, Film Review, Genre - Drama, Year - 1980-1989 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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