The year is 1984 and the world is split into three distinct areas, all constantly at war with each other, or at least that is what the inhabitants of London are told. Winston Smith (Edmond O'Brien) is one such inhabitant and is growing ever more resentful at the police state he and his fellows live under; he works for the government, which should offer him more privileges but in actual fact means he is more restricted than the classes lower than he is. There is a camera and speaker set up in his and many others' homes that makes sure to record whatever they do and see that they are not breaking any laws while ordering them about - but then Winston buys himself a forbidden diary in which he writes: "Down with Big Brother!"
George Orwell's famous novel of a nightmare future had previously been brought to the screen by the BBC a couple of years before this version, and to great controversy that it should show scenes of torture on a Sunday night. This one would not have the same impact as it dutifully followed the plot of the book, but had a miscast central performance as one of its problems: where Peter Cushing on television had been ideal as Winston, the burly and surly O'Brien looked as if he could have any representative of an oppressive state in a fight and come out the victor, then go on to rally the masses and overthrow the powers that be into the bargain.
Of course, not everything from the novel made it in here, but enough was there to at least render it recognisable. Alas, it was a leaden adaptation, here scripted by Ralph Gilbert Bettison and William Templeton, with no righteous anger and a lot of moping. Coming so soon after the novel was written, the film does have an authentic feel of a post-World War Two world dressed up as a totalitarian country, with its TV screens ever present, posters proclaiming "Big Brother is Watching You" and frequent rallies encouraging the populace to hate. Hate is very important as it defines these people and without it there would be no control and indeed no purpose to their lives, so when Winston and a co-worker, Julia (Jan Sterling), begin a secret (so they think) relationship, it's as much an act of defiance that either of them can muster.
It follows that as they make plans to overthrow the government that there must be others with the same idea, but what they don't realise is that the authorities are all too aware that there could be insurgency and have made allowances to take care of any rebellion. Winston and Julia's romance may be wishy-washy, but it's the best they've got and when their boss Michael Redgrave leads them on to unwittingly landing themselves in it up to their necks it's a small part of humanity to be extinguished. But this is so heavy handed and lacking in passion that the twist doesn't provoke the sorrow that it should; perhaps if O'Brien and Redgrave had swapped roles then this may have been more effective. Occasional bits are fine: the revelation of what is behind the mirror in the room above the junk shop for example, but even Room 101 doesn't feature any rats that we see, as if the film were pulling its punches. Apparently there are two endings that you can watch, but this paled in comparison with the adaptation made in 1984 itself. Music by Malcolm Arnold.