Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984 film)

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Nineteen Eighty Four.jpg
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Radford
Produced bySimon Perry
Screenplay byMichael Radford
Based onNineteen Eighty-Four
by George Orwell
Music by
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byTom Priestley
Distributed by20th Century Fox (original)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (current, via Atlantic Releasing Corporation)
Release date
  • 10 October 1984 (1984-10-10) (United Kingdom)
Running time
110 minutes[1][note 1][2]
CountryUnited Kingdom[3]
Budget£5.5 million[4] or £4 million[5]
Box office$8.4 million (United States)[6]

Nineteen Eighty-Four, also known as 1984, is a 1984 British dystopian science fiction film written and directed by Michael Radford, based upon George Orwell's 1949 novel of the same name. Starring John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, and Cyril Cusack, the film follows the life of Winston Smith, a low-ranking civil servant in a war-torn London ruled by Oceania, a totalitarian superstate. Smith (Hurt) struggles to maintain his sanity and his grip on reality as the regime's overwhelming power and influence persecutes individualism and individual thinking on both a political and personal level.

The film, which was Burton's last screen appearance, is dedicated to him.[7] The film was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Art Direction, and won two Evening Standard British Film Awards for Best Film and Best Actor.


In a dystopian 1984, Winston Smith endures a squalid existence in the totalitarian superstate of Oceania under the constant surveillance of the Thought Police. Smith resides in London, the capital city of the territory of Airstrip One, formerly England. Winston works in a small office cubicle at the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history in accordance with the dictates of the Party and its supreme leader, Big Brother. Haunted by painful memories and restless desires, Winston keeps a secret diary of his private thoughts, thus creating evidence of his thoughtcrime. However, he tries to do it undercover of the telescreens, to maintain his safety.

His life takes a major turn when he is accosted by fellow Outer Party worker Julia and they begin an illicit affair. Their first meeting takes place in the remote countryside where they exchange subversive ideas before having sex. Shortly after, Winston rents a room above a pawn shop in the less restrictive proletarian area where they continue their liaison. Julia procures contraband food and clothing on the black market, and for a brief few months they secretly meet and enjoy an idyllic life of relative freedom and contentment together.

Their affair comes to an end one evening, with the sudden raid of the Thought Police; they are both arrested. It is later revealed that their transgressions were recorded by a hidden telescreen in their room and that the proprietor of the pawn shop Mr. Charrington is a covert agent of the Thought Police. Winston and Julia are taken away to the Ministry of Love to be detained, questioned and "rehabilitated" separately. There O'Brien, a high-ranking member of the Inner Party, systematically tortures him.

O'Brien instructs Winston about the state's true purpose and schools him in a kind of catechism on the principles of doublethink — the practice of holding two contradictory thoughts in the mind simultaneously. For his final rehabilitation, Winston is brought to Room 101, where O'Brien tells him he will be subjected to the "worst thing in the world", designed specifically around Smith's personal phobias. When confronted with this unbearable horror — which turns out to be a cage filled with wild rats — Winston's psychological resistance finally and irretrievably breaks down, and he hysterically repudiates his allegiance to Julia. Now completely subjugated and purged of any rebellious thoughts, impulses, or personal attachments, Winston is restored to physical health and released.

Winston returns to the Chestnut Tree Café, where he had previously seen the rehabilitated thought criminals Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford (themselves once prominent but later disgraced members of the Inner Party) who have since been "vaporized" and rendered unpersons. While sitting at the chess table, Winston is approached by Julia, who was similarly "rehabilitated". They share a bottle of Victory Gin and impassively exchange a few words about how they have betrayed each other. They act indifferently towards each other. After she leaves, Winston watches a broadcast of himself on the large telescreen confessing his "crimes" against the state and imploring forgiveness from the populace.

Upon hearing a news report declaring the Oceanian army's utter rout of the enemy (Eurasia)'s forces in North Africa, Winston looks at the still image of Big Brother that appears on the telescreen, then turns away with tears in his eyes as the words "I love you" are heard whispered in his voice.


Annie Lennox makes a cameo appearance as a woman at the Two Minutes Hate rally.


In winter 1983, the director Michael Radford asked his producer to try to obtain the rights to Orwell's novel, with low expectations that they were available. It turned out that the rights were held by Marvin Rosenblum, a Chicago lawyer who had been trying on his own to get such a film produced.[8] Rosenblum agreed to become an executive producer, and while producer Simon Perry raised the production money from Richard Branson, Radford wrote the script, inspired by his idea to make a "science fiction film made in 1948."[8] The script was finished in three weeks.[8]

For the role of O'Brien, Paul Scofield was originally contracted to play the part, but had to withdraw after sustaining a broken leg while filming The Shooting Party.[8][9] Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery and Rod Steiger were all then considered.[8] Richard Burton, who was living in Haiti, joined the production six weeks into its shooting schedule[8] and insisted on his costume of a boiler suit being hand-made for him in Savile Row.[10][11]

Some internet sources claim that principal photography began on 19 March 1984 and ended in October 1984.[7] However the film was released that same month, and a title card at the end of the film explicitly states, it "was photographed in and around London during the period April–June 1984, the exact time and setting imagined by the author."[12] The budget was originally £2.5 million but this rose during filming and additional funds were required.[13] The opening scenes of the film showing the Two Minutes Hate were filmed in a grass-covered hangar at RAF Hullavington near Chippenham in Wiltshire.[14] Some scenes set in Victory Square were also filmed at Alexandra Palace in London.[15] Senate House (University of London) was used for exterior shots of the Ministry of Truth.

The disused Battersea Power Station in Wandsworth served as the façade for the Victory Mansions, and the Beckton Gas Works in the Docklands of Newham was used as the setting for the proletarian zones. The pawnshop exterior, a pub scene and a scene with a prostitute were filmed in Cheshire Street, in London's East End, an area Orwell had visited and commented on in his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London. The canteen interiors were filmed in a disused grain mill at Silvertown. In contrast, the idyllic, dreamlike "Golden Country", where Winston and Julia repair for their first tryst and which recurs in Winston's fantasies, was filmed in the southwest county of Wiltshire at a natural circle of hills called "Roundway", near the town of Devizes. The scenes on the train were shot on the Kent and East Sussex Railway. The film shared a number of locations with Terry Gilliam's Brazil, which was filmed the same year.[8]

Radford and cinematographer Roger Deakins originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but the financial backers of the production, Virgin Films, opposed this idea. Instead, Deakins used a film processing technique called bleach bypass (originally created by Technicolor and Deluxe, but recreated for this production by Key) to create the distinctive washed-out look of the film's colour visuals. The film is a very rare example of the technique being applied to every release print, rather than the interpositive, that was struck from the original camera negative, or the internegative (struck from the interpositive); as the silver is retained in the print and cannot be reclaimed by the lab, the cost is higher, but the retained silver gives a "depth" to the projected image.[citation needed]

Release and reception[edit]

Nineteen Eighty-Four made its theatrical debut on 10 October in London and on 14 December in New York City.[16] It was released in the United States for one week in December 1984 at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles to qualify for the 1984 Academy Awards and grossed a house record $62,121, despite stormy weather.[17]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times said the film was "admirable, bleakly beautiful", although "not an easy film to watch".[2]

Roger Ebert awarded the film 3.5/4 stars, writing that it "penetrates much more deeply into the novel's heart of darkness" than previous adaptations, and describing Hurt as "the perfect Winston Smith".[18]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes has given the film a 74% approval rating, based on 27 reviews, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The site's critical consensus states:

"1984 doesn't fully emerge from the shadow of its source material, but still proves a solid, suitably discomfiting adaptation of a classic dystopian tale."[19]

Metacritic has given the film a rating of 67 out of 100 based on 8 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[20]

Score controversy[edit]

Virgin Films (formerly part of the Virgin Group), who financed the film, commissioned the British rock/pop duo Eurythmics to produce the music for the soundtrack. Radford objected to Virgin's insistence on using the more pop-oriented electronic Eurythmics music, as the traditional orchestral score originally intended for the film had been composed entirely by Dominic Muldowney a few months earlier.

Against Radford's wishes, Virgin exercised their right of final cut and replaced Muldowney's musical cues with the new Eurythmics contributions. One Eurythmics song, "Julia", was also heard in its entirety during the film's closing credits. However, Muldowney's main theme music (particularly the state anthem, "Oceania, 'tis for thee") was still prominently used in the film.

In November 1984, Virgin Records released the Eurythmics soundtrack album, containing considerably altered versions of their music heard in the film, under the title 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother). The album reached number 23 on the UK Album Chart, and was later certified Gold by the BPI for sales in excess of 100,000 copies.[21] A song from the album, "Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)", was released as a single just prior to the album and became one of Eurythmics' biggest hits, peaking at number 4 and was awarded a Silver disc for sales in excess of 200,000 copies.[21] The music video for the single made use of clips from the film. The track "Julia" was also released as a single which peaked just outside the Top 40.

Radford disowned Virgin's edit of the film containing the mixed Eurythmics/Muldowney score and, during his acceptance speech at the Evening Standard British Film Awards, expressed his displeasure at Virgin's "foisting" the Eurythmics music on his film.[22] Radford withdrew the film from consideration at the BAFTA awards in protest of Virgin's decision to change the musical score. Eurythmics responded with a statement of their own claiming no knowledge of prior agreements between Virgin and Radford/Muldowney and that they had accepted the offer to compose music for the film in good faith.

In 1999, Muldowney's complete orchestral score (24 tracks in total) was released on a special limited edition CD album under the title Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Music of Oceania, to commemorate the film's 15th anniversary. The CD booklet featured previously unseen production photographs and artwork as well as liner notes by Radford.

As of today, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer owns the film's rights worldwide since they own both the Atlantic Releasing Corporation and the Virgin Films catalogs, and on their DVD release in North America in 2003, the film's colour is restored to a normal level of saturation and the Eurythmics contributions to the score were removed entirely and replaced with Muldowney's musical cues as Radford had originally intended—although both Eurythmics and Muldowney are still jointly credited in the opening and closing titles. This DVD release was quickly discontinued and currently remains out of print. This version had previously been shown by Channel 4 in the UK in the late-1980s. However, while the MGM DVD release of the film in the UK in 2004 features the desaturated visuals, it has the mixed Eurythmics/Muldowney soundtrack on the English- and French-language audio tracks, but the purely Muldowney soundtrack on the German- and Spanish-language audio tracks.

In 2013 the film was re-released on DVD in North America by TGG Direct on a double feature with Megaville (1990), under license from MGM. This DVD release also features the original mix of Eurythmics/Muldowney soundtracks, as well as the theatrical desaturated colour palette. In 2015 the film was released on Blu-ray in North America by Twilight Time in a limited 3,000 copy run, again, licensed by MGM. This release features the Eurythmics/Muldowney Soundtrack on one audio channel and Muldowney's orchestral score on another, as well as keeping true to the original colour scheme.

The version of the film which has been released on Digital Download services is the 2015 HD edition. It is available only with the original Eurythmics/Muldowney soundtrack.

The 2019 Criterion Collection release of the film contains both the Eurythmics soundtrack and the original score composed by Dominic Muldowney.


The film won the Best British Film of the Year award at the Evening Standard British Film Awards. It also won The Golden Tulip Award at the 1985 Istanbul International Film Festival.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

International Video Entertainment paid $2 million for North American home video rights, the fifth biggest deal ever at the time.[17] Their VHS release came out in 1985. Polygram Video later released the film on VHS in the mid-1990s. In 2003, MGM Home Entertainment released the film on DVD in North America and in the UK a year later, the American DVD only contains Muldowney's score while the UK DVD contains the mix of his and Eurythmics' soundtrack. TGG Direct re-released the movie on DVD in 2013 as a double feature with Megaville. The film has been released on Blu-Ray twice, first by Twilight Time in 2015 as a limited 3,000 copy run and by The Criterion Collection in 2019. All later home video copies of the film in the United States contain the score done by Eurythmics and Dominic Muldowney, rather than just the latter.


  1. ^ Canby's New York Times review lists the film's running time as 117 minutes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Nineteen Eighty-Four". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  2. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (18 January 1985). "The Screen: John Hurt in 1984, Adaptation of Orwell Novel". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  3. ^ "Nineteen-Eighty Four (1984)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  4. ^ Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, Harrap 1986 p257
  5. ^ Champagne Perry Author: Moria Petty Date: Thursday, Mar. 15, 1984 Publication: Daily Mail p 24
  6. ^ Nineteen Eighty-Four at Box Office Mojo
  7. ^ a b "MISCELLANEOUS NOTES". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Brew, Simon (8 April 2008). "The Den of Geek interview: Michael Radford". Den of Geek. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
  9. ^ "Obituary: Paul Scofield". BBC News. 20 March 2008. He was to have been in The Shooting Party in 1983, but broke a leg and a couple of ribs in an accident on the first day of filming...
  10. ^ 'In Conversation with Michael Radford', Sky Arts 2013-10-18
  11. ^ Andrew L Urban, "CLARK, AL – NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR", Urban Cinefile, 22 Dec 2005 accessed 11 November 2012
  12. ^
  13. ^ Park, James. "Orwell that ends well." London: The Sunday Times 7 October 1984: 55.
  14. ^ "Swindon Connection | Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984 starring Richard Burton | SwindonWeb". Archived from the original on 30 August 2011. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
  15. ^ Pirani, Adam (November 1984). "Welcome to 1984". Starlog. p. 78.
  16. ^ "1984". 22 March 1985 – via IMDb.
  17. ^ a b Bierbaum, Tom (21 December 1984). "IVE Pays $2 Mil For Homevideo Rights To '1984'". Daily Variety. p. 1.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (1 February 1985). "1984 (1984)".
  19. ^ "1984 (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 4 November 2019.
  20. ^ Nineteen Eighty-Four at Metacritic
  21. ^ a b British Phonographic Industry online database
  22. ^ "1984". 22 March 1985 – via IMDb.
  23. ^ Billson, Anne (18 January 2014). "Since when was Orwell's 1984 a love story?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 5 August 2014.

External links[edit]