After re-visiting the book, one instantly becomes aware of how inferior and far short of the book, despite remaining fairly faithful to the story, the movie is. This is because Orwell’s 1984 is not simply about the dysfunctional love story that happens within a totalitarian state; but far more than this, it is also a polemic on the abuse of state power wielded against the individual. Orwell depicts for us a fully-realised world where rebellion is not possible, in which a global elite constantly perpetuates itself, where history is unceasingly reviewed and updated, and the thinking of the individual is repeatedly crushed by the application of Newspeak and Doublethink.
I think the movie version was, as I’ve already said, engaging, yet it largely misses the opportunity to take full advantage of the talents of a truly great actor in Burton, sadly in his last film role before his death, and who was simply made for the part of O’Brien, Winston Smith’s interrogator and nemesis. There are so many brilliant speeches of O’Brien’s in the book that Burton would have delivered with aplomb and the most impeccable world-weariness and cynicism. Film however, despite having been once known as The Talkies, tends to shy away from long speeches - perhaps movie moguls fear losing their audiences through too much talk; it’s always a far better bet to concentrate on the torture and horror! Unfortunately, Orwell mostly conveys the message behind this terrible futuristic vision, through his mouthpiece, O’Brien. The movie of 1984 is a decent film, but if only it had had the courage to increase its running-time by twenty minutes, it might have been a masterpiece!
We live in strange times, where government spokespeople are heard to refer to 'Alternative facts', and we are warned by many in authority and in the mainstream media that much of the news we see is 'fake'. In such a time, it behoves all of us to exercise our hard won democratic rights to free speech, to ensure that we are served by a free, fair and unbiased press, one that is not simply the mouthpiece of a handful of powerful oligarchs. Like I said at the top, when I read this book when I was fifteen, I don't think I thought it could really happen; now, many years on, I'm not so confident ...
I highly recommend this brilliantly written book, justifiably a classic.