Produced in England, Michael Anderson’s 1955 version of George Orwell’s dystopian novel is set in a futuristic 1984 and remains faithful to its source, concentrating on the possibility of love and humanity in a totalitarian state ruled by a powerful bureaucratic elite in a world of “Big Brother”, “Thought Police” and “Doublethink”.
Society is divided into three classes: the Inner Party, the Outer Party and the Proles. The Party slogans are “War Is Peace”, “Freedom Is Slavery” and “Ignorance Is Strength”.
Edmond O’Brien stars as Winston Smith, who dares to question the all-powerful government of Oceania and defies Big Brother, indirectly, by falling in love with Julia (Jan Sterling).
Their brief love affair is played out in an atmosphere of guilt and fear, as if each deliciously sweet stolen moment might be their last.
Inevitably, they are discovered by the Thought Police and from that point onwards, the film concentrates on the “cleansing” of Smith’s mind, carried out behind the prison walls of the Ministry of Love.
Step by step, under the direction of Inner Party official O’Connor (Michael Redgrave), Smith is reduced to a hollow shell of what was once a man. As his body deteriorates, so does his spirit, until he is nothing more than a party automaton.
There is no happy ending to the film, and it is not fantastic enough for audiences to say glibly “Well, that could never happen here”.
Under the adept direction of Michael Anderson, 1984 – with all its misery and oppression – becomes horrifyingly possible.
This film version became unavailable in the 1970s because the Orwell estate disapproved of it – an ironic echo of the historical revisionism carried out by Winston Smith in the story itself.
It’s every bit the equal of Michael Radford’s remake, but both pale beside the chilling, authentically Orwellian vision of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985).