Play Review

by Nick Cooper © 1992-8

"In our world there will be no love, but the love of Big Brother. No laughter, but the laughter of triumph over a defeated enemy. No art, no science, no literature, no enjoyment, but always and only, Winston, there will be the thrill of power. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever."

Later, in the canteen, Winston sits down at the table next to Julia and the two surrepticiously arrange to meet outside London the following Sunday afternoon. She manages to reel off a set of precise directions before Parsons passes by and strikes up a conversation with Winston. Julia leaves as Parsons makes his usual praising comments about the food, and briefly mentions that he hasn't seen Syme. He then proceeds to outline his plans for Victory Mansions' contribution to the forthcoming Hate Week as a slow fade ends the scene.

A linking piece of film footage of Winston walking through wooded countryside leads to his clandestine meeting with Julia in a clearing. She assures him that there are no hidden microphones and that she found the place while out on a community hike. For the first time she tells him her name and that she already knows his. Winston confesses before she gave him the note he had wanted to murder her, thinking she was working for the Thought Police in following him:

JULIA[laughing]: I'm not the Thought Police. You honestly thought that?
WINSTON: You're young, and strong, and healthy...
JULIA: Pure in word and deed, banners, processions, slogans, games, all that stuff? And you thought if I'd half a chance I'd denounce you and get you killed off?
WINSTON: Something like that - a lot of young girls would.
JULIA: Actually, I am like that to look at. Keep an eager face, always shout with the crowd, never shirk anything, then you're safe. I do voluntary work three evenings a week for the Anti-Sex League, so I've earned this filthy thing.
She pulls off her checkered waist sash and hurls it to the ground.

WINSTON: I'm thirty-five years old, I've got a wife I can't get rid of, physical grade three.
JULIA: I couldn't care less.

There follows a clumsy embrace, during which it seems Cushing and Mitchell positively avoid actually kissing each other (well, it was 1954!). Julia explains that she had spotted Winston as a potential lover some time earlier, knowing that he was against the Party, but assures him that it was more emotional recognition that observation, and that he disguises it well. Although her own "act" was too good for him to spot, she asks if he has seen it in anyone else and he suggests that O'Brien might be a dissenter as well.

Julia asks about Winston's wife:

WINSTON: She was beautiful, she hadn't a thought in her head that wasn't a slogan, she submitted to marriage out of loyalty to the state. She had two names for it: making a baby...
JULIA: ...and our duty to the Party.
WINSTON: You know that one too?
JULIA: Sex talks at the Youth League for the over sixteen's. I'd say it's out of date now - they're getting techniques to replace marriage.
WINSTON: With Katherine there wasn't anything to replace...

After much prevarication, they do eventually kiss, and as Winston hold her in an embrace straight out of Gone With the Wind, he tells her:

WINSTON: This is the unforgivable crime, you know that?
JULIA: Between Party members? I know.
WINSTON: And that in the end we can't win, you know that?
WINSTON: It's just that some kinds of failure are better than other kinds, that's all.
JULIA: How long, do you think, before they find out?
WINSTON: Six months, if we're careful... a year... five years, even.
JULIA: We'll be careful, and clever too. We'll find other places like this - better ones.
WINSTON: Some times we'll only be able to manage a word to each other passing in the street, and there'll be...
JULIA: We won't give up. We might even be able to find a secret place that's just our own. It's a challenge, and we're going to accept it. My darling... this is me, my hand, my arm, my face... let's enjoy being alive...

Some time later Winston visit's Charrington's shop and arranges to use the upper room. The old man assures him that his privacy will be respected, and that the rent will be $5 a week, which Winston's willingly pays in advance. Charrington also tells him that there is also an entrance into the shop from the back of the building, useful for avoid the inevitable crowds during Hate Week. A short film sequence illustrates the latter, showing propaganda posters placards being put up and carried through the streets. Looking down from the window of room above the shop, Winston says he wishes they would stop, just for a minute.

JULIA: That's what they've turned love into. All this marching up and down, and waving flags, and cheering - it's simply sex gone sour.
WINSTON: Do you mean they depend on all that hysteria all bottled up...
JULIA: They can't bear you to feel anything else. When you make love, you use up a lot of energy and then you feel all warm and happy inside, and you don't give a damn for Big Brother and the Three-Years Plan.

She then makes Winston turn away from her because she has a surprise for him. Looking out of the window he sees a fat prole woman singing a song which he recognises as one composed in the Ministry of Truth: "The product of an electronic machine, and she sings it as if it means something." From behind a curtain, Julia merely observes that the song is out of date.

WINSTON: She's a solid as a pillar, as sturdy... Do you know, Julia, she's beautiful.
JULIA[laughing]: I saw her yesterday - a metre across the hips, easily!
WINSTON: That's her style of beauty. Strong heart, strong arms, toughened by twenty years of child-bearing. Julia, if there's any hope for the future, it lies in the proles.
JULIA: The proles?!
WINSTON: Eighty-five percent of the population. If only they became conscious of their own strength - all they need is to rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies. They'd throw off the Party...
JULIA: Conscious? They're like a horse alright. Don't you remember the old slogan: "Proles and animals are free." Darling, they think they're free now.
WINSTON: Free to work themselves to death, free to enjoy the filth that's peddled to them by the Party: drugs, foul books, the pronographic...
JULIA: Hey, my life's work! Darling, they love it all. The Party gives them exactly what they want.
WINSTON: If only there were some way to show them. Do you think the Brotherhood...
JULIA: What about the Brotherhood?
WINSTON: It's just struck me, being able to talk about it... I've never done that in my life. Do you think Goldstein's Brotherhood really exists?

Julia says she doesn't, because rebellion against the Party - except on an individual level such as their own - is futile. Winston again mentions O'Brien, contemplating that he may be sympathetic, but Julia cuts him off by telling him he can look round again. He does so and find her wearing a dress and make-up were had belonged to Mrs Charrington. "This is my style of beauty. At least I'm a woman now," she declares, and asks him about the age of everything in the room. Winston suggests fifty, or even a hundred years, with the picture of the church being twice that. Julia recognises the building as well and Winston repeats the rhyme:

WINSTON: Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements...
JULIA: ...I owe you five farthings, said the bells of St Martins. When will you pay me, said the bells of Old Bailey...
WINSTON: But you know it!
JULIA: I can't remember any more.

She tells him that her grandfather taught it to her, and then says that he must forget the Brotherhood, because the clever thing is to do what they are already - staying alive for each other. She then asks him to make some coffee - she having procured a black market supply along with real sugar - but while doing so he sees a rat in the room, which leaves him choking and nauseous. Thinking practically, Julia spots the hole it came through and says she'll block it up. It transpires that Winston is terrified of the vermin after an experience in his childhood. His mother had been taken away for "questioning," and he had stolen his baby sister's meagre bread ration before running away from their house. Returning in the morning, he found his mother still gone, and that the rats had eaten his sister.

Julia comforts him, saying that he mustn't think of it again, but he protests that it always comes back to him in moments of terror, such as when he met Syme in the Chestnut Tree Cafe. He tells her that he now believes Syme to be dead, all trace of him having vanished from their work place, including his name on the list of the Ministry of Truth Chess Club committee members on the noticeboard. He tells her of Syme's suspicions that he had been denounced:

JULIA: I wonder who did.
WINSTON: Or he himself.
WINSTON: He was too intelligent. He saw too clearly and spoke too plainly. That it should happen was written in his face.

He then looks at the glass paperweight and contemplates: "It's like a tiny world with its atmosphere complete. If it were possible to get inside there, to have your life there, and mine, perhaps even to find a new people again..."

Winston is seen later looking at the aforementioned noticeboard, when O'Brien accosts him, saying he's hoped to have a word with him about one of his Newspeak articles in The Times which had impressed him. Winston says he is only an amateur, but O'Brien disagrees, saying it is not only his opinion, but one shared by, "a friend of yours, who is certainly an expert." A glances meaningfully at the Chess Club committee list, remarking that the name of the person in question temporarily escapes him. That his referring to the un-person Syme is left in no doubt, and he tells Winston that he has a advance copy of the Tenth Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary which he may like to see, and that he can collect it from his home. Jotting down the address, O'Brien says he is usually in in the evenings, and that if he isn't his servant can give him the dictionary.

Julia is sceptical, saying that even if O'Brien does hate the Party, is doesn't necessarily mean anything. Winston, however, is convinced that is that were so, O'Brien would not have referred - however critically - to Syme, and that he might be able to lead them to the Brotherhood. Julia casts doubt even on that secret group, asking how do they know that it just isn't another invention of the Party - something else to hate, like all the show trials and mock traitors, or the war itself? She wants to carry on what they are already doing, but he is adamant that he must seek out the Brotherhood and do more, even if it leads to his death long before the overthrow of the Party:

WINSTON: If little pockets of resistance can be started, just a few records left for the next generation...
JULIA: I'm not interested in the next generation, only in us.
WINSTON: Yes, I know.
JULIA: Winston, because I love you, I won't let you do this alone. If they take us, there's nothing we can do about it, is there?
WINSTON: Nothing, nothing. If that happens the only thing that matters is that we should betray one another.
JULIA: If you mean confession, I'd do that right away - you do under torture.
WINSTON: I don't mean confession. Confessing isn't betrayal. What you say or do doesn't matter. Only feelings matter. If they could make me stop loving you, that would be the real betrayal.
JULIA: They can't do that. They can make you say anything, anything, but they can't make you believe it. They can't get inside your heart.
WINSTON: If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can't have any result whatever, then you've beaten them.

They agree to go to O'Brien's together the same night.

At the home of the Inner Party member, Winston and Julia are startled from the outset when they discover that O'Brien is able to switch off his Telescreen, a privilege they were not even aware existed to anyone. Winston tells O'Brien that they believe that there is some organisation working against the Party, that he is involved with it, and that they both want to join. His servant, Martin, brings in some wine and O'Brien proposes a toast to their leader, Goldstein. This also surprises Winston, as he had thought that Goldstein may also be a product of Party propaganda, but O'Brien reassures him that this is not the case, although he does not know where he is.

He also tells them that the Brotherhood does exist, and asks them what they are prepared to do, to which they reply anything - sabotage, murder, treachery, blackmail,or even throwing acid into the face of a child - apart from leaving each other. O'Brien is satisfied with this, and tells them: "Before you leave here I will give you a book, from which you will learn the true nature of the society we live in and how we shall destroy it. When you have read it you will be full members of the Brotherhood. You will receive your orders from me through Martin. Apart from three or four other contacts for immediate tasks, you will know nothing. You will get no encouragement, no commentary. When finally you are caught, the only help you may expect will be a razor blade smuggled into your cell. You will confess the little you know, betray a handful of unimportant people like myself, and die. We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. How far away that future is there is no knowing. Perhaps a thousand years of spreading our knowledge outwards from person to person, generation to generation. In the face of the Thought Police there is no other way."

Undiscouraged by this excellently delivered soliloquy, Winston and Julia this time toast the past and then get set to leave separately. Julia goes first, leaving Winston with O'Brien, who asks if they have a hiding place. Winston tells him about the shop in the prole sector, which he is told to keep for the time being. Asked if there is anything else he needs to know, Winston says:

WINSTON: Did you ever happen to hear an old rhyme which begins, oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements?
O'BRIEN: You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St Martins. When will you pay me, say the bells of Old Bailey. When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch.
WINSTON: You know the last line!
O'BRIEN: Yes, I know the last line.

He then gives him the Newspeak Dictionary, which he tells him not to open now, but to study well. He then leaves as O'Brien turns on the telescreen in time to hear an announcement that 200 Eurasian war criminals will be publicly hanged in Victory Park the next day...

The next day the scene shifts back to Charrington's shop - where Winston has been reading the book O'Brien gave him - just as Julia arrives after going to see the hangings for the sake of her "cover." Winston feels all his beliefs have been justified by what is in the book, but Julia is reluctant to even have it read to her, saying that it is just something else they will have to hide and that she is worried by how she couldn't yell with the crowds at the executions as she could before. Undeterred, Winston tells her she has to know:

WINSTON[reads]: 'When the United States absorbed the British Empire to form Oceania, and Russia took Europe to form Eurasia, two of the three World States were in being. Their ideologies were Ingsoc, Neo-Bolshevism, and later Death-Worship in East Asia. These three States are permanently at war.'
JULIA: Then it's not a sham?
WINSTON: Wait! [reads] 'War has changed its character. It exists only to preserve tyranny. Fighting - when there is any - takes place on vague tropical frontiers, or round the floating fortresses. The essential act of war is the destruction of human labour. A way of shattering or sinking the materials which might be used to make the masses too comfortable, in the long run, too intelligent. No invasion of enemy territory must ever take place.'
JULIA: Then the real war isn't with Eurasia at all! It's between all of us...
WINSTON: ...and them! [reads] 'The Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates conditions because he has nothing with which to compare his way of life. Efficiency, even military efficiency, is no longer needed. In Oceania nothing is efficient except the Thought Police. Big Brother...'
JULIA: Does he exist?
WINSTON: [reads] ' the guise in which the Party shows itself to the world. No-one has ever seen him.'

Winston tells her that everything he suspected or wanted to know is in the book and she agrees that they must read it together. Outside the prole woman is singing again, and Julia goes to the window to watch her, She tells Winston that she is worried about the promises they made to O'Brien, wondering if there is some way they could have disappeared and gone to live among the proles, but that it is too late now. Winston agrees that they are committed, but it is not just too late from the night before:

WINSTON: It's thirty years too late.
JULIA: If we'd lived then, we'd've been married!
WINSTON: Thirty... even twenty years ago, we could have walked through the streets, quite openly, talking about anything we liked.
JULIA: They'd've known we loved each other and there'd've been nothing they could do to stop us.
WINSTON: They can't stop us loving now.

The prole woman starts singing again, and Julia miserably says that the future is hers. Winston agrees, saying that the proles can, "keep alive the body, but we can keep alive the mind." He asks if she remembers something O'Brien said:

WINSTON: We are the dead.
JULIA: We are the dead.
TELESCREEN[off]: You are the dead!

They both turn, horrified to see the picture on the wall swinging away from the wall, the Telescreen sliding into view from behind it, ordering to remain where they are until ordered to move. They realise that the house is surrounded, and when Julia says, "I suppose we may as well say goodbye," the Telescreen adds in agreement: "You may as well say goodbye." Black-uniformed guards climb in through the window and burst in through the door, grabbing the two and pulling them apart.

Winston shouts a warning to Charrington as he appears in the doorway, but the man walks confidently into the room, taking off his spectacles and suddenly looking twenty years younger as he addresses the Telescreen: "Thinkpol reporting crimefix 2145 hours. Proceeding Minilovewise." He then turns to Winston and adds: "I discovered the end of the little rhyme. You may as well have it, so it's not wasted... Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head... Take the woman first." Julia is dragged off, screaming for them not to take her to the Ministry of Love as one of the guards clubs her with his truncheon.

A short film sequence shows window arriving by car (!) outside the Ministry of Love and being manhandled inside, then - back in the studio - he is seen being thrown onto the floor of a cell, one of the occupants of which is Parsons. Sitting on the bench next to him, Winston asks him what happened and Parsons tells him that his own daughter denounced him as a thought criminal. Unaware that he is also a prisoner, Parsons starts jabbering to Winston about his exemplary record, saying that even if he is guilty - which he does not dispute - he could still be of some use, "in a Joy Camp."

A prisoner is dragged into the cell and left on the floor. One of the other inmates sitting on the bench with Winston and Parsons moves towards him, holding a piece of bread, but the Telescreen orders him to drop it as the guard reappear. He kicks the man on the ground, telling him to get to his feet and that he is going to, "Room one-oh-one." This terrifies the prisoner, who begs the guard that he will confess anything and that they can kill him any way they like as long as they don't take him there. "Room 1-0-1," the guard intones, grabbing the prisoner, he suddenly rounds on the man who had offered him the bread, telling the guard that he is the one they want: "You didn't hear what he said when he was pretending to give me that piece of bread!"

The prisoner is dragged away as O'Brien walks into view, flanked by two guards.

WINSTON: O'Brien! They got you, too?
O'BRIEN[smiling] They got me a long time ago. You knew this, Winston, don't deceive yourself, you did know it. You've always known it.

A fade to black and a brief musical interlude (in order to change sets) leads to the darkened torture chamber, where Winston lies in a coffin-like deeply recessed table as O'Brien sits nearby. An attendant stands next to a bank of controls. O'Brien tells him to turn the apparatus up to "one-seventy," and Winston's moans of pain increase. O'Brien asks him if he remembers writing in his diary that, "freedom is the freedom to say that two and two make four?" Winston says that he does, and O'Brien holds up four fingers to him and asks how many he can see:

O'BRIEN: And if the Party says it is not four, but five, then how many?
O'BRIEN: One-eighty. [Winston gasps in pain] How many? One-ninety. How many fingers, Winston?
WINSTON: Four... five... four... anything you like... only stop the pain... stop...

O'Brien operates a lever on the table, tilting it so that he can see Winston's face even when he leans back in his chair. Smith asks how he can help seeing what is in front of his face, and O'Brien says that he must try harder. He clicks his fingers at the attendant, who hands him a clipboard. Winston asks if this is room 101 and how long he has been there. O'Brien says that it isn't and that he was admitted seven weeks ago.

O'BRIEN: During that time you have beaten brutally every day. You see, I don't pretend. You have confessed to assassination, to distribution of seditious pamphlets, to religion, to embezzlement of Party funds, sale of military secrets, sabotage, murder... Why do you think we bring people to this place?
WINSTON: To make them confess.
WINSTON: To punish them?
O'BRIEN: No, to cure them. We're not interested in the stupid crimes you have committed, only in the thought. I'm taking trouble with you, Winston, because you're worth trouble. You are mentally deranged, a defective memory. Now, that is curable, but you must try to help me. Even now you are clinging to the impression that your disease is a virtue.
WINSTON: How can you stop people remembering things? You can't control it.
O'BRIEN: You have not controlled it. You are here because you prefer to be a lunatic, a minority of one. Only the disciplined mind can see reality, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction - an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.

Again the power is applied and O'Brien hold up his fingers to Winston, who stammers that he would see five if he could, and he is trying. O'Brien is unconvinced. Winston begs him not to increase the power and that he doesn't know how many fingers there are. O'Brien says this is better. The attendant attaches another piece of apparatus directly to the whimpering Winston's forehead, but O'Brien says that this time it will not hurt, ordering: "Three thousand." He holds up his hand again, saying that there are five fingers, to which Winston groggily agrees, then says there are four again.

O'BRIEN: But you see now it is possible? Do you remember writing in your diary that it did not matter whether I was a friend or an enemy, since at least I was a person who understood you and could be talked to? You were right. I enjoy talking to you, Winston, your mind appeals to me. It resembles mine, except - of course - you happen to be insane.
WINSTON [sobbing]: No...
O'BRIEN: Now, before we end this session you may ask a few questions.
WINSTON [sitting up]: What have you done with Julia?
O'BRIEN: She betrayed you. Immediately, unreservedly. You would scarcely recognise her. All the deceit, folly, rebelliousness, dirty-mindedness... burned out of her. A perfect conversion.
WINSTON: You tortured her!
O'BRIEN: Next question?
WINSTON: Does Big Brother exist?
O'BRIEN: Of course he does. The Party exists - he is the embodiement of the Party.
WINSTON: But in the same way as I exist...
O'BRIEN: You do not exist.
WINSTON: I think I exist... I am conscious of my own indentity...
O'BRIEN: Sit up. Go on, Winston, ask it.
WINSTON: How did you... Oh, very well... What is in Room 101?
O'BRIEN: You know, Winston...
O'BRIEN: Everyone knows what is in Room 101.

Winston is taken back to his cell.

There follows further sessions in the torture chamber, with the first two played only on a close-up of Morrell speaking alone, with the only other presence Cushing's sobs and moans from out of shot.

O'BRIEN:  Do not imagine that you will save yourself. No-one who has once gone astray is ever spared. Even if we chose to let you live out your life, you would never escape from us. What happens to you here is forever. Things will happen to you here from which you could not recover if you lived a thousand years. Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling; of love, or friendship, or joy of living; of laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow... we shall squeeze you empty... and then we shall fill you with ourselves. Have you understood, Winston? [to the attendant] One-ninety-five...

O'Brien talks about Goldstein's book, condemning its contents, because he wrote it himself. "Start with this thought: the rule of the Party is forever. Remember it, Winston. Two-twenty... no... take him away."

O'BRIEN: You know how the Party keeps power, now tell me why.
WINSTON: You are ruling us for our own good. Because we are not fit to govern ourselves.
The attendant turns up the power.

O'BRIEN: That was stupid, Winston. I want intelligence. The Party seeks power for its own sake, not as a means, but as an end. Power over the human mind, and power over all matter, climate, disease, the laws of gravity... because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull, Winston. We control the laws of nature. The stars are not light-years away, but a few kilometres away - if we wished we could blot them out... [taps his forehead] here. That is power. In our world there will be no love but the love of Big Brother. No laughter, but the laughter of triumph over a defeated enemy. No art, no science, no literature, no enjoyment; but always and only, Winston, there will be the thrill of power. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever...

Winston is later made to listen to a wire recording of his and Julia's meeting with O'Brien, when the latter asked which crimes they were prepared to commit for the Brotherhood. O'Brien taunts him with the promises he made, asking what makes him worse than, "us, with our lies and our cruelty? Is that the spirit of man you hoped would arise and defeat us?" Winston sobs that it must, but O'Brien ignores his protests. "If you are a man, Winston," he says, "You are the last man." He orders Winston's release and tells him to look at himself in the mirror. We see him for the first time in nearly four minutes, in which time a quick make-up job has transformed Cushing into a haggard, broken and limping reflection of his former self. "If you are human," O'Brien says, "Then that is humanity." Winston collapses into his arms:

O'BRIEN: My poor friend, you are almost well. Look at my eyes. It is not enough to obey Big Brother. You now know what is needed. Who it is you must love.
WINSTON [looking at himself in the mirror]: You did that... to her?
O'BRIEN: What was that? Be careful, Winston. Now...
WINSTON: Julia! Julia!
O'Brien lets him go and he falls to the ground, sobbing her name.

O'BRIEN: You once asked me what was in Room 101. It is there that we have the means to root out the last lingering deception...


He orders the guards to pick him up and continues: "What happens in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. It varies from individual to individual. It can be death by burning, burial alive, or something quite trivial, not even fatal. In your case, we both know - of course - that the worst thing in the world happens to be..." The camera cuts to two rats in a plastic cage. The sight of them sends Winston frantic, begging O'Brien to tell him what he wants him to do. O'Brien says that by itself pain is not always enough, and that in Room 101 the prisoner faces the unendurable: "Courage and cowardice are not involved. You will do what is required of you." He demonstrates that attached to the cage by a tube is a mask which fits over the head. The door of the cage is raised up and the rats, "shoot out like bullets. It was a common punishment in Imperial China. The rats were caught in the sewers a week ago... now they're starving..." As the guards move him towards the cage, Winston suddenly starts ranting: "Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia, not me! Julia! I don't care what you do to her! It's Julia! Julia! Not me! Not me!"

Three months later, Julia - looking haggard and twenty years older - is seen sitting in the Chestnut Tree cafe. The waiter gives her a gin and makes some comment about a major Eurasian offensive. The Telescreen declares that an important announcement is imminent as the waiter shuffles off and Winston comes into the cafe. He sits down at the table, recognising her vaguely. He tells her he's been out for three weeks:

WINSTON: I've got a... a committee job... it's quite hard work...
JULIA: I betrayed you.
WINSTON: I betrayed you.
JULIA: Sometimes they... threaten you with something you can't stand up to; can't even think about. And you say, 'don't do it to me, do it to... so-and-so...' Afterwards you pretend you only said it and didn't really mean it. That's not true... the time you wanted it to happen to the other person.

"No, you don't," Winston agrees, as the Telescreen pumps out the song: "Underneath the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me. They lie here, and here lie we, 'neath the spreading chestnut tree." Julia stands slowly and makes to leave, hardly acknowledging Winston's comment that they must meet again sometime. At the door, the waiter asks if he should keep a place for her, but she says no.

The Telescreen announces: "Comrades, here is the bulletin from the Ministry of Peace - it tells of victory! By means of a strategic manoeuvre unparalleled in the history of warfare, our brave troops have utterly routed vastly superior Eurasian forces. The whole of this magnificent and secret operation was inspired and conducted by Big Brother. It is his military genius alone that has brought control of the whole of Africa within measurable distance of realisation." The thought sof Winston are heard in voiceover: "Love... suddenly... so suddenly. My victory. Love, love, love... I love Big Brother..."As the cheering of the crowd increases, and the face of Big Brother on the Telescreen looms, the credits roll.

The response of The Times the next day was guarded, comparing the play to the original work: "Concentrating on the action... reduced the ideological explanation so drastically that it robbed the story of half its power. What we saw was not so much Orwell's vision as a pictorial simplification of it." The reviewer, however, did suggest that Orwell himself would not have been disappointed: "The vividness with which many parts of it came through would, perhaps, have pleased the author. The two-minutes' Hate was, for instance, a wonderfully riotous orgy of vindictiveness." There was also praise for the cast: "Mr Peter Cushing made a touching broken hero of Winston Smith, and Miss Yvonne Mitchell did well in bringing to life the girl whom the sight of the torturer's rats forces him to deny. Mr André Morrell as O'Brien, who manipulates Winston's long remedial 'cure,' had just the right tone of controlled fanaticism."

The reaction of others, however, was not as academic. On the Tuesday, a motion was tabled in the House of Commons by five Tory MPs, which deplored, "the tendency, evident in recent in recent British Broadcasting Corporation television programmes, notably on Sunday evenings, to pander to sexual and sadistic tastes." An amendment tabled by five Labour members and one Conservative would make the motion deplore, "the tendency of honourable members to attack the courage and enterprise of the British Broadcasting Corporation in presenting plays and programmes capable of appreciation by adult minds, on Sunday evenings and other occasions." A second amendment would have added to the original motion: "but is thankful that freedom of the individual still permits viewers to switch off and, due to the foresight of Her Majesty's Government [a refernec to the imminent start of ITV], will soon permit a switch-over to be made to more appropriate programmes." Finally, a second motion, tabled by six Tory MPs, applauded, "the sincere attempts of the BBC to bring home to the British people the logical and soul-destroying consequences of the surrender of their freedom," and calling attention to the fact that, "many of the inhuman practices depicted in the play Nineteen Eighty-Four are already in common use under totalitarian régimes." Some things never change....

An editorial comment in The Times on the morning of the Thursday repeat replied to these Parliamentary manoeuvres with a sympathy for the BBC uncommon today: "The British Broadcasting Corporation alone should be responsible for its programmes... It is to be hoped that as a result of all the fuss in the newspapers and elsewhere there will be an even larger audience for tonight's repeat performance than might otherwise have been gathered. If anything had been needed to underline the tremendous possibilities of television the reactions of the last few days have provided it." Further, one crucial aspect of transmission - yet which is hardly ever realised today - was noted: "Orwell's novel has been in circulation for five years. It has been widely read and made many thinking people uncomfortable. Yet until last Sunday's broadcast it could be said that the impact of Nineteen Eighty-Four on the British public had been only marginal. Despite their use hundreds of times in newspapers, such phrases as 'totalitarianism,' 'brain-washing,' 'dangerous thoughts,' and the Communist practice of making words stand on their heads have for millions of people taken on new meaning. The BBC is to be congratulated for its courage."

The prediction of The Times proved to be correct. The repeat went ahead in the wake of favourable comments by Prince Philip at the Royal Society of Arts, who said: "The Queen and I watched the play and thoroughly enjoyed it." The second performance attracted the highest television audience since the Coronation. Despite this, Cartier at one point needed bodyguards: "Two tough guys hired by the BBC, who said, 'You stick to Mr Cartier and don't let anyone come near him,' because there were very threatening 'phone calls to the BBC, because everybody thought this was a pro-communist, anti-fascist subject."

Compared to other surviving BBC productions from the same period, the play is vastly superior to The Quatermass Experiment, both in the scope of the production and its execution, yet 1955 Quatermass II marked a noticeable downward trend.  Only Quatermass and the Pit three years later can be judged superior to Nineteen Eighty-Four in a technical sense, although it comes close in the shock stakes as well (operating, as it does, on a different level).  Cartier and Kneale continued to work together until the end of the decade, producing such notable plays and serials as The Creature, Quatermass II, and Quatermass and the Pit, not to mention numerous other non-telefantasy adaptations. Throughout the 1960s, both continued to work for the BBC, with Kneale leaving in the early 70s to work for various ITV companies, his final script for the Corporation being The Stone Tape in 1972. He now works in the film industry, while his former colleague is now retired.

As with the Quatermass serials, and The Creature, a film version of Nineteen Eighty-Four was made in 1955 by Michael Anderson. In deference to the American backing, Edmund O'Brien was cast as a rather overweight Winston Smith, with Jan Sterling as a glamourous blonde Julia, and the film was made with two different endings. For the American market, the original storyline was followed, while British audiences saw Winston and Julia reject their brainwashing and die in a hail of bullets! Unsurprisingly, Orwell's estate was unimpressed with the treatment of the book and blocked any subsequent re-issue of the film, although some clips turned up unexpectedly in the Truth About Lies series of documentaries shown by Channel 4 in its Banned season in 1991.

In 1965, BBC Home Radio tackled Orwell's book as a 90 minute play on 11 October, with Patrick Troughton and Sylvia Syms (who was some fifteen years older than the role!) in the leads, and the production received quietly praising reviews. With typical Beebian logic, BBC2 rounded off it's Theatre 625 - The World of George Orwell series of adaptations on 28 November the same year with a remake of the 1954 play, with amendments by Kneale to "update" it for the intervening eleven years. Interviewed in 1986, the writer remembered: "It was a skilful version, but for me the acting was much less good." Indeed, the remake is largely dismissed, perhaps partly because no copy exists in the BBC Archives. At the time, however, critical reaction was hardly damning, with Mary Crozier in The Guardian commenting that the production was, "immensely hard and gripping, and David Buck was excellent as Winston Smith. All the clever details came out sharply, and the nightmare effect of the men in white coats and the torture scenes was flawlessly achieved."

At the end of July 1977, the BBC2 began a special season of repeats - Festival 77 - to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, with one complete programme representing each year of her reign since her Accession to the Throne in 1952. Chosen as representative of 1954 the was original Cartier/Kneale play. This was the only televised repeat since the actual recorded performance, and it is from this that the few steadily degrading video copies in free circulation stem.

In 1984 itself, the telerecording of the original play was shown at the National Film Theatre, alongside the 1956 film, on the very day that Winston began his diary with the words, "April 4th, 1984. Last night to the flicks..." The initially stunned reaction of the audience was followed by an ovation, but there was to be no televised repeat of the play. Richard Branson's Virgin Films, in association with Chicago lawyer Marvin Rosenblum, had set to work producing the "definitive" cinema version, whilst actively suppressing all others. This was possible because rather than obtain the film rights from Orwell's widow, Rosenblum had bought all the media rights to the book three years previously. The new version, directed by Michael Radford, is a competent and accurate adaptation of the novel, but it is so much so that it often becomes cold and aloof, bogged down in the literature of the book. Looking at the film as a whole, it is a almost as if Radford tried to cram everything into 122 minutes, thus having to trim and curtail scenes to the extent that they are near meaningless for any viewer who has not read the novel. Characters ended up bearing little relation to their original models, while - if anything - the brutality and griminess of the film transcended anything Orwell envisaged, negating an link between this world and what it may have mutated into given a different path from 1949 onwards.  At times it is so plain that it was all shot on the Isle of Dogs and around Battersea Power Station that the dramatic suspension of disbelief failed.

While John Hurt, Richard Burton, and (to a lesser extent) Susanna Hamilton were perfectly cast as Winston, O'Brien, and Julia, some of the supporting actors don't do as good a job as their 1954 counterparts. Cyril Cusack's performance as a shifty and suspect Charrington is so blatent that he may as well jave, "I am an agent of the Thought Police," tattooed on his forehead - a marked contrast to Leonard Sachs' deceptively engaging and gentle portrayal, which makes his "un-masking" all the more shocking.  Similarly, Gregor (Rab C.Nesbit!) Fisher play's the over-zealous Parsons as if on the verge of a nervous breakdown, while Campbell Gray was far more realistic thirty years before. At the last minute, and against Radford's express wishes, the producers replaced most of the neo-classical score with music by the Eurthymics. Radford denounced the film at the BAFTA award ceremony, yet the eventual video release still contained the offending music. When shown by Channel 4 in 1989, however, the original score was restored.

When the BBC celebrated 50 years of television in 1986, a request for permission to show the play during the TV50 repeats was refused by the makers of the 1984 film on the grounds that it would, "affect their profits." In recent years, 'though, clips from the production have been used in a number of documentaries, while the NFT again organised a screening to round off their major retrospective of Rudolph Cartier's work in 1990. The copyright on all of George Orwell's works runs out in the year 2000, after which time the BBC will be free of any external constraints to transmit - or even release on video - the 1954 play. Seven years may not seem long to wait now, but it shouldn't have to be this way. Cartier's production will be forty-six years old by then, but considering how well it has weathered the first thirty-nine, I do not think it will disappoint the small by discerning audience it will attract.

The last word, however, deservedly goes to Rudolph Cartier, who - when looking back on his life's work - offered this simple justification: "The public wants to be lifted out of their drab, dreary life, to look at this cold screen of glass, and look at another world. That is what the public expected from me."


A shorter version of the original two-part Star Begotten review appeared in DWB/Dreamwatch Bulletin #126, May 1994.  Revisions that were included for the first time at that stage have been incorporated into this reprint, with major additions being indicated by the use of green text. In actual fact, the play was eventually rescreened on BBC2 in July 1994 in the wake of Rudolph Cartier's death the previous month, accompanied by a revised version of the 1990 feature on his work by The Late Show.


The above account of the production and subsequent fallout from the play was based on the scqant information sources available at the time of writing, inevitably resulting in the inclusion of some long-standing inaccuracies and distortions. I would recommend readers to Oliver Wake's excellent forensic analysis of many of these myths at the British Television Drama website.


Based on the novel by GEORGE ORWELL

Waiter......................SYDNEY BROMLEY
Winston Smith................PETER CUSHING
O'Brien......................ANDRÉ MORRELL
Julia......................YVONNE MITCHELL
Syme......................DONALD PLEASANCE
Emmanuel Goldstein..........ARNOLD DIAMOND
Parsons......................CAMPBELL GRAY
Mrs Parsons.................HILDA FENEMORE
Parsons Girl..................PAMELA GRANT
Parsons Boy....................KEITH DAVIS
Woman Supervisor..............JANET BARROW
First Youth.................NORMAN OSBORNE
Second Youth....................TONY LYONS
Third Youth............ ....MALCOLM KNIGHT
First Man.......................JOHN BAKER
Second Man....................VICTOR PLATT
Barman..........................VAN BOOLEN
Old Man & Thin Prisoner...WILFRED BRAMBELL
Mr Charrington...............LEONARD SACHS
Canteen Woman...................JANET JOYE
Guard...........................HARRY LANE
Narrator..................RICHARD WILLIAMS

Incidental Music composed & conducted by JOHN HOTCHKIS
Models & Effects by BERNARD WILKIE & JACK KINE

A BBCtv production © 1954

BBCtv 12/12/54 [first live performance - not recorded]
BBCtv 16/12/54 [second live performance - 35mm film telerecording exists]
BBC2 03/08/77
BBC2 01/07/94


The Times 15/12/54, 13/12/54, 16/12/54, 17/12/54
The Listener16/12/54, 23/12/54, 30/12/54, 14/10/65, 02/12/65
The Guardian 29/11/65
Starburst #16 [1979], #35 [1981]
Television [Century Publishing 1985]
Time Screen #6 [12/86]
Peter Cushing - A One Way Ticket to Hollywood [Tyburn Films 1988]
The Television Heritage [BFI Publishing 1989]
The Late Show [BBC2 25/10/90, revised repeat 01/07/94]

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