Friday, April 02, 2010

Orwell's 1984: the BBC teleplay

Until yesterday, I didn't know that the BBC produced a live teleplay of George Orwell's iconic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four starring a young Peter Cushing in 1954. They sure did.

BBC 1984

1984 was made for the then astronomical figure of £3,249. Nigel Kneale (Quatermass, The Year of the Sex Olympics) wrote the script and Peter Cushing headed the cast. Director Rudolph Cartier even stretched to commissioning an original score, which was conducted during the live transmission.

The live performance on Sunday 12 December 1954 scored the highest ratings since The Coronation. Critics were excited at seeing what the new medium was capable of, calling it "a landmark in the at-present short history of television drama" but furious watchdogs campaigned for the planned second performance a few days later to be cancelled. The BBC's Head of Drama Michael Barry refused to concede, and that second live performance was recorded.

Watching 1984 today one cannot help but marvel at the ingenuity of the production. Actors move through 22 sets while the cameras perform a high-speed waltz around the studio to capture the full horror of Orwell's dystopia; filmed sequences are played while sets, cameras and actors are repositioned.

It is interesting that while television makers today, standing on giants' shoulders, can achieve so much with so little effort, there has been a desire in recent years to recapture some of the strange magic that live television offers.

Watch the entire program on the George Orwell Youtube channel. [Embedding disabled. I will never understand why people check that box.]

Do watch it. The production is incredible - especially considering it was performed live! I have to think this teleplay had an impact on Terry Gilliam while making his own dystopian magnum opus Brazil.

1 comment:

lightning in a bottle said...

i only knew of the john hurt 1984 version. i shall have to watch it sometime this weekend!