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Nineteen Eighty-Four (film)

UK theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Radford
Produced by Simon Perry
Screenplay by Michael Radford
Based on Nineteen Eighty-Four 
by George Orwell
Music by Dominic Muldowney
Cinematography Roger Deakins
Edited by Tom Priestley
Virgin Films
Umbrella-Rosenblum Films
Distributed by 20th Century Fox (UK)
Atlantic Releasing (US)
Release dates
  • 10 October 1984 (1984-10-10)
Running time
110 minutes[1][note 1][2]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £5.5 million[3]
Box office $8,430,492

Nineteen Eighty-Four, also known as 1984, is a 1984 British dystopian drama film written for the screen and directed by Michael Radford, based upon George Orwell's novel of the same name. Starring John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, and Cyril Cusack, the film follows the life of Winston Smith in Oceania, a country run by a totalitarian government.

The film, which features Burton's last screen appearance, is dedicated to him "with love and admiration."[4]


In a dystopian 1984, Winston Smith endures a squalid existence in the totalitarian superstate of Oceania under the constant surveillance of the Thought Police. The story takes place in London, the capital city of the territory of Airstrip One (formerly "either England or Britain").

Winston works in a small office cubicle at the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history in accordance with the dictates of the Party and its supreme figurehead, Big Brother. A man haunted by painful memories and restless desires, Winston is an everyman who keeps a secret diary of his private thoughts, thus creating evidence of his thoughtcrime.

His life takes a fatal turn when he is accosted by a fellow Outer Party worker — a mysterious, bold-looking girl named Julia — and they begin an illicit affair. Their first meeting takes place in the remote countryside where they exchange subversive ideas before having sex. Shortly after, Winston rents a room above a pawn shop (in the supposedly safe proletarian area) where they continue their liaison. Julia — a sensual, free-spirited young woman — procures contraband food and clothing on the black market, and for a brief few months they secretly meet and enjoy an idyllic life of relative freedom and contentment together.

It comes to an end one evening, with the sudden raid of the Thought Police. They are both arrested and it's revealed that there is a telescreen hidden behind a picture on the wall in their room, and that the proprietor of the pawn shop, Mr. Charrington, is a covert agent of the Thought Police. Winston and Julia are taken away to be detained, questioned and brutally "rehabilitated" separately. Winston is brought to the Ministry of Love, where O'Brien, a high-ranking member of the Inner Party whom Winston had previously believed to be a fellow thought criminal and agent of the resistance movement led by the archenemy of the Party, Emmanuel Goldstein, systematically tortures him.

O'Brien instructs Winston about the state's true purpose and schools him in a kind of catechism on the principles of doublethink — the practice of holding two contradictory thoughts in the mind simultaneously. For his final rehabilitation, Winston is brought to Room 101, where O'Brien tells him he will be subjected to the "worst thing in the world", designed specifically around Smith's personal phobias. When confronted with this unbearable horror — which turns out to be a cage filled with wild rats — Winston's psychological resistance finally and irretrievably breaks down, and he hysterically repudiates his allegiance to Julia. Now completely subjugated and purged of any rebellious thoughts, impulses, or personal attachments, Winston is restored to physical health and released.

In the final scene, Winston returns to the Chestnut Tree Café, where he had previously seen the rehabilitated thought criminals Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford (themselves once prominent but later disgraced members of the Inner Party) who have since been "vaporized" and rendered unpersons. While sitting at the chess table, Winston is approached by Julia, who was similarly "rehabilitated". They share a bottle of Victory Gin and impassively exchange a few words about how they have betrayed each other. After she leaves, Winston watches a broadcast of himself on the large telescreen confessing his "crimes" against the state and imploring forgiveness from the populace.

Upon hearing a news report declaring the Oceanian army's utter rout of the enemy (Eurasian)'s forces in North Africa, Winston looks at the still image of Big Brother that appears on the telescreen, then turns away and almost silently says "I love you" - a phrase that he and Julia repeatedly used during their relationship, indicating the possibility that he still loves Julia. However, he could also be declaring his love for Big Brother instead, like in the book.[note 2]


Bob Flag appears as Big Brother, though only as a still image.


In winter 1983, Radford asked his producer to try for the rights to Orwell's novel, with few expectations that they were available. It turned out that the rights were held by Marvin Rosenblum, a Chicago lawyer who had been trying on his own to get such a film produced.[5] Rosenblum agreed to become an executive producer, and while producer Simon Perry raised the production money from Richard Branson, Radford wrote the script, inspired by his idea to make a "science fiction film made in 1948."[5] The script was finished in three weeks.[5]

For the role of O'Brien, Paul Scofield was originally contracted to play the part, but had to withdraw after sustaining a broken leg while filming The Shooting Party.[5][6] Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery and Rod Steiger were all then considered.[5] Richard Burton, who was living in Haiti, joined the production six weeks into its shooting schedule[5] and insisted on his costume of a boiler suit being hand-made for him in Saville Row.[7][8]

Principal photography began on 19 March 1984, and ended in October 1984.[4] Some scenes were shot on the actual days noted in Winston's diary (for example: April 4, 1984) as well as at some of the actual locations and settings mentioned in Orwell’s novel.[9]

The budget was originally £2.5 million but this rose during filming and additional funds were required.[10]

Radford and cinematographer Roger Deakins originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but the financial backers of the production, Virgin Films, opposed this idea. Instead Deakins used a film processing technique called bleach bypass to create the distinctive washed-out look of the film's colour visuals. The film is a very rare example of the technique being applied to every release print, rather than the internegative or interpositive; as the silver is retained in the print and cannot be reclaimed by the lab, the cost is higher, but the retained silver gives a "depth" to the projected image.


The opening scenes of the film showing the Two Minutes' Hate were filmed in a grass-covered hangar at RAF Hullavington near Chippenham in Wiltshire.[11] Some scenes set in Victory Square were also filmed at Alexandra Palace in London.[12] Senate House (University of London) was used for exterior shots of the Ministry of Truth.

The disused Battersea Power Station in Wandsworth served as the façade for the Victory Mansions; and the Beckton Gas Works in the Docklands of Newham was used as the setting for the proletarian zones. The pawnshop exterior, a pub scene and a scene with a prostitute were filmed in Cheshire Street, in London's East End, an area Orwell had visited and commented on in his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London. The canteen interiors were filmed in a disused Co-op grain mill at Silvertown.

In contrast, the idyllic, dreamlike "Golden Country", where Winston and Julia repair for their first tryst and which recurs in Winston's fantasies, was filmed in the southwest county of Wiltshire at a natural circle of hills called "The Roundway", near the town of Devizes. The scenes on the train were shot on the Kent and East Sussex Railway.

The film shared a number of locations with Brazil, which was filmed the same year.[5] An epigram in the closing credits claims that the film was shot during the very months and in the very locales when and where Orwell's novel was set.


Upon its U.S. premiere, Vincent Canby said the film was "admirable, bleakly beautiful", though "not an easy film to watch"; according to Canby, "Mr. Burton is fine as the suave, avuncular O'Brien - his last film role - and Miss Hamilton, with her little-girl prettiness combined with a steely self-assurance, would seem to be a major find as Julia. Mr. Hurt's performance, however, is the film's center of gravity. He is splendid, and if his Winston Smith never seems truly tragic, that's in the nature of the Orwell work, which has a journalistic dryness to it that denies tragic possibilities. Most stunning of all are the film's production design, by Allan Cameron, and Roger Deakins's photography, from which all the colors of sunlight have been drained."[2]

Roger Ebert awarded the film 3.5/4 stars, writing that it "penetrates much more deeply into the novel's heart of darkness" than previous adaptations, and describing Hurt as "the perfect Winston Smith."[13]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an 80% "fresh" rating, based on 15 reviews.[14]

Controversy over the musical score

Virgin Films (formerly part of the Virgin Group), who financed the film, commissioned the British rock/pop duo Eurythmics to produce the music for the soundtrack. Radford objected to Virgin's insistence on using the more pop-oriented electronic Eurythmics music, as the traditional orchestral score originally intended for the film had been composed entirely by Dominic Muldowney a few months earlier.

Against Radford's wishes, Virgin exercised their right of final cut and replaced Muldowney's musical cues with the new Eurythmics contributions. One Eurythmics song, "Julia", was also heard in its entirety during the film's closing credits. However, Muldowney's main theme music (particularly the state anthem, "Oceania, 'tis for thee") was still prominently featured in the film. In November 1984, Virgin Records released the Eurythmics soundtrack album, featuring considerably altered versions of their music heard in the film, under the title 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother). Despite the controversy, the album reached number 23 on the UK Album Chart, and was later certified Gold by the BPI for sales in excess of 100,000 copies.[15] A song from the album, "Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)", was released as a single just prior to the album and became one of Eurythmics' biggest hits, peaking at number 4 and was awarded a Silver disc for sales in excess of 200,000 copies.[15] The music video for the single featured clips from the film. The track "Julia" was also released as a single though peaked just outside the Top 40.

During his acceptance speech at the Evening Standard British Film Awards, Radford openly expressed his displeasure with Virgin's decision and claimed that the Eurythmics music had been "foisted" on his film. Radford had disowned Virgin's edit of the film featuring the mixed Eurythmics/Muldowney score, yet when Nineteen Eighty-Four made its theatrical debut on 10 October in London and on 14 December in New York[16] this was the version released in wide circulation. Michael Radford withdrew the film from consideration at the BAFTA awards in protest of Virgin's decision to change the musical score. Eurythmics responded with a statement of their own claiming no knowledge of prior agreements between Virgin and Radford/Muldowney.

In 1999, Muldowney's complete orchestral score (24 tracks in total) was released on a special limited edition CD album under the title Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Music of Oceania, to commemorate the film's 15th anniversary. The CD booklet featured previously unseen production photographs and artwork as well as liner notes by Radford.

On the subsequent MGM DVD release in North America in 2003, the film's color is restored to a normal level of saturation and the Eurythmics contributions to the score were removed entirely and replaced with Muldowney's musical cues as Radford had originally intended—although both Eurythmics and Muldowney are still jointly credited in the opening and closing titles. This DVD release was quickly discontinued and currently remains out of print. This version had previously been shown by Channel 4 in the UK in the late-1980s. However, the MGM DVD release of the film in the UK in 2004 features the mixed Eurythmics/Muldowney soundtrack on the English- and French-language audio tracks as well as the original desaturated visuals.


The film won the Best British Film of the Year award at the Evening Standard British Film Awards. Also It won The Golden Tulip Award at Istanbul International Film Festival in 1985.


  1. ^ Canby's New York Times review lists the film's running time as 117 minutes.
  2. ^ The novel unambiguously ends with the words: "He loved Big Brother," whereas the movie seems to deliberately allow for either interpretation. Earlier, during Winston's conversation with Julia in the rented room, he stated that "if they can make me change my feelings, they can stop me from loving you, that would be real betrayal". In the final scene, the "real betrayal" has therefore either been committed or averted, depending on whether the "you" that Winston loves is Big Brother or Julia.

See also


  1. ^ "NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (15)". 20th Century Fox. British Board of Film Classification. 2 October 1984. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (18 January 1985). "The Screen: John Hurt in 1984, Adaptation of Orwell Novel". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-08-05. 
  3. ^ Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap 1986 p257
  4. ^ a b "MISCELLANEOUS NOTES". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2014-08-05. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Brew, Simon (8 April 2008). "The Den of Geek interview: Michael Radford". Den of Geek. Retrieved 2014-08-05. 
  6. ^ "Obituary: Paul Scofield". BBC News. 20 March 2008. He was to have been in The Shooting Party in 1983, but broke a leg and a couple of ribs in an accident on the first day of filming... 
  7. ^ 'In Conversation with Michael Radford', Sky Arts 2013-10-18
  8. ^ Andrew L Urban, "CLARK, AL – NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR", Urban Cinefile, 22 Dec 2005 accessed 11 November 2012
  9. ^[unreliable source?]
  10. ^ Park, James. "Orwell that ends well." Sunday Times [London, England] 7 Oct. 1984: 55. The Sunday Times Digital Archive. Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
  11. ^ Swindon Connection | Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984 starring Richard Burton | SwindonWeb
  12. ^ Pirani, Adam (November 1984). "Welcome to 1984". Starlog. p. 78. 
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 February 1985). "1984 (1984)". 
  14. ^ "1984 (Nineteen Eighty-Four) (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-12-11. 
  15. ^ a b British Phonographic Industry online database
  16. ^ Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) - IMDb
  17. ^ Billson, Anne (18 January 2014). "Since when was Orwell's 1984 a love story?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2014-08-05. 

External links