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1984 (1965)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of 1984 (1965)
For The World of George Orwell, BBC2, tx. 28/11/1965
120 minutes, black & white
DirectorChristopher Morahan
ProducerCedric Messina
ScriptNigel Kneale
Original NovelGeorge Orwell

Cast: David Buck (Winston Smith); Joseph O'Conor (O'Brien); Jane Merrow (Julia); Cyril Shaps (Syme); Norman Chappell (Parsons)

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London, Oceania, 1984. Winston Smith, a worker at the Ministry of Truth, harbours a secret hatred of the Party and its benevolent leader Big Brother. He forms an illicit partnership with Julia, a member of the Anti-Sex League. But their dream of freedom is shortlived.

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When originally produced in 1954, Nigel Kneale's dramatisation of Nineteen Eighty-Four (tx. 12/12/1954) caused a storm of controversy for its politics and scenes of torture. A revised version of the same script was produced in 1965 as part of an Orwell season on BBC2. This version was long thought lost, but was rediscovered in 2010, the most eye-catching of more than 60 previously missing British television titles found at the Library of Congress.

Kneale's original script had been realised as a largely live transmission by producer Rudolph Cartier. This time, director Christopher Morahan had all the resources and flexibility of pre-recording to videotape. He makes the most of this, with greater use of exteriors, an enhanced opening montage, and more complex visual effects.

The most obvious contrasts come towards the end, as Winston is tortured. In 1954, these sequences took place on a nearly bare set, with the sole focus on the two actors. Morahan includes additional personnel, a more elaborate set and projected graphics. The effect is mixed. The use of a video extract of an earlier scene, replayed as surveillance evidence against Winston, works well. However, the lab-coated technicians are more comic than sinister in their white baker's caps and dark glasses. But the 'Room 101' sequence, which caused most upset in 1954, is arguably more horrific here, with the threat of the caged rats given greater prominence.

The use of a near-psychedelic light effect during Winston's interrogation has more in common with The Avengers (ITV, 1961-69) than the more primitive methods of Orwell's novel. This is perhaps an example of the script's updating to take into account developments since the novel's publication in 1949 and the original production in 1954. On a practical level, Kneale had originally structured the drama for the specific requirements of a live transmission. With this no longer required, his revised script reorders some scenes and drops others, making room for additional material, such as an entirely new scene that illustrates the populace's keen complicity in Big Brother's bald deceits.

No protest followed the 1965 transmission, perhaps because the production lacks both the novelty and some of the raw emotional impact of the 1954 broadcast. The intervening 11 years had seen television extend its range of programming, with challenging and disturbing drama more readily accepted. While still a horrific prediction of the future, '1984' had seemingly lost its power to shock.

Oliver Wake

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Video Clips
1. Newspeak (1:40)
2. Thought-crime (2:06)
3. A change of enemy (2:13)
4. The Ministry of Love (2:54)
5. A picture of the future (4:15)
Production stills
Nineteen Eighty-Four (1954)
Kneale, Nigel (1922-2006)
Morahan, Christopher (1929-)
Rediscovered TV Drama