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

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
(SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bonds in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball, but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again, despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.