Skip to main content

Two Minutes Hate can be quite exhausting.

BBC Sunday-Night Theatre: 1984
(1954)

(SPOILERS) The BBC’s relatively quick-off-the-marks adaptation – just not as quick as Studio One in Hollywood’s – of Orwell’s novel roused some vitriolic responses at the time. It’s hailed by many as still the best screen version of 1984. Coming to it soon after a read of Nineteen Eighty-Four, however, I found it generally lacking, despite being buoyed by several strong performances and a diligent approach from Nigel Kneale.

As told by Dorian Lynskey in The Ministry of Truth, this version’s broadcast led to hundreds of viewers complaining to the Beeb about its “unusual amount of sex and violence”, abusive calls to Cushing, death threats to director Rudolph Cartier and the Daily Express headline “A Million NIGHTMARES”. It also saw a huge increase in sales of the novel, a Goon Show parody (Nineteen Eighty-Five) and “reinforced the novel’s political importance” albeit it was commonly misinterpreted as “anti-socialist propaganda”.

Cushing is suitably gaunt and earnest as Winston Smith, Andre Morell benign then intractable as O’Brien, and Donald Pleasance an appropriately waffling bore as Syme. Yvonne Mitchell fares less well, unable to access Julia’s more carnal qualities with the consequence that she is left simpering. Also notable are Leonard Sachs as Mr Charrington, the prole shopkeeper who eventually reveals himself as nothing of the sort, and Wilfrid Brambell in dual roles as an old prole and a prisoner (Brambell was barely forty; like Clive Dunn, he made a name for himself playing significantly older than his age).

With the distance the camera lends, the impersonality of Winston’s fate seems all the more inevitable here, manoeuvred into a date with the Ministry of Love; it’s his destiny. If that aspect is effective, much else here is not. This is a BBC production, one lacking the necessary grimness and grime of the novel’s decaying infrastructure. Big Brother looks more like Doctor Watson than a force of… anything much, really. The berets worn by the Outer Party don’t help matters either. And with such lapses, the novel’s sustained tension and oppression dissipate. The sense of escalation accompanying Winston’s path is abrupt and truncated, such that the interrogation lacks real punch. No sooner have he and Julia used the shopkeeper’s spare room than they are captured (“You are the dead”), and the horrors of the Ministry of Love and Room 101 are necessarily softened. Essentially, this is very much Sunday night theatre with the emphasis on “theatre”.

Within those limitations, however, the production is still dramatically engaging. The populist pedigree of Cartier and Kneale carries across from the previous year’s The Quatermass Experiment, ensuring this isn’t stolid and lifeless the way much TV of that era can now appear. Kneale’s additions to Orwell have a frequently humorous touch (“You do know a lot, don’t you – about our sink?” accuses his neighbour’s vicious little daughter when Winston goes to help unclog the kitchen sink; "Victory gin does not improve the palate" attests O'Brien).

Orwell’s failures of logic with regard to the proles’ freedom isn’t particularly addressed, and one rather wonders if Kneale is hoping the societal structure can be swept over (“There wasn’t always Big Brother, you know” says Charrington. So suggesting, even given that he is an impostor, rather more engagement with the state of affairs on the proles’ part than simply being “animals” indulging in state-sponsored porn).

Also amplified by the softness of this version, Winston’s professed dedication to the resistance cause sounds even less convincing than on the page (that he would throw “sulphuric acid in a child’s face”). It underlines that his volunteering for any act desired of him is a little too neat, designed precisely in order that it should serve a retrospective function when it comes time for his own values to be torn down.

In the Nineteen Eighty-Four rankings, this version may be merely adequate, but it still comes in a comfortable second place.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.