Based on the dystopian novel by George Orwell and set in the totalitarian future state of Oceania, this is the story of citizen Winston Smith (John Hurt), a lowly outer party functionary who lives in London, which is the capital of the territory of Airstrip One (formerly Britain), and whose job it is to erase certain people from existence and rewrite history for the Ministry of Truth.
Big Brother, the autocratic symbol of an oppressive regime, has forbidden such things as free thinking, expression, and sex.
There is no escaping the ever-present Viewscreens installed in every room, which allow the thought police to watch every citizen – hence the sinister motto, “Big Brother is Watching You”.
Whilst free thought is forbidden and everybody is under constant surveillance, Winston keeps a diary of his private thoughts. He breaks the law even further by becoming involved in an illicit love affair with fellow Ministry of Truth worker Julia (Suzanna Hamilton).
He finds a rented room without a Viewscreen where he and Julia meet for forbidden sex and wonder if there really is a resistance movement that they might join.
Unfortunately for Winston, a high-ranking member of the government, O’Brien (Richard Burton in his final screen appearance), who has looked upon him as a protégé, discovers the rebellion.
Winston is charged as a Thought Criminal and taken into the Ministry of Love for rehabilitation by the Thought Police, where he is interrogated and tortured (in the feared Room 101) and brainwashed into a system of belief that he loves the State.
Staying pretty faithful to its source material, 1984 is a very bleak and grim affair. The future is made to look especially drab, washed-out and grey, perfectly conveying the lack of humanity as well as the omnipresence of the Party. So much so, that this adaptation actually suffers a bit from its all-encompassing grim mood, making it not the easiest film to sit through.
John Hurt is fantastic as Winston Smith, whose face perfectly conveys his long mentally tortured existence, and Burton also does an admirable job as the face of the Party, putting in a truly frightening performance.
Hurt won a Best Actor award at the Fantasporto Film Festival, whilst both actors walked away with the same prize at the Valladolid Festival.