Nineteen Eighty-Four [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - British Film Institute
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (1st July 2022).
The Film

"Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1954)

Winston Smith (played by Peter Cushing) is a government worker at the Ministry of Truth in Oceania. The totalitarian country controls its people through news media and propaganda, broadcasting information about a war in Eurasia to rally the people to unite for the troops and control their thoughts and aggressions. Free thinking and anti-government actions are outlawed with consequences, but Smith finds out that there are others out there, like him that have had second thoughts on the world around him which he is unable to speak about. A chance encounter with Julia Dixon (played by Yvonne Mitchell) starts to open his mind more, but in a world where "freedom" is controlled heavily, their future together is not something feasible...

Over the course of his career, George Orwell has worked as a journalist, critic, and broadcaster, but his works as a fiction writer has overshadowed everything else he has ever done, especially with the two works "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty-Four". Those two written works have been studied in schools, by governments worldwide, adapted in various media, and parodied to death over the years and still continues to spark criticism, shock audiences, and make people think about the dangers of propaganda and what the future may bring. "Nineteen Eighty-Four" was published in 1949, just a year prior to his death at the age of 46 to Tuberculosis, a political warning of the dangers of a repressive government that restricts critical thinking, controls its citizens through media lies, instilling fear, limiting language, censoring history, monitoring daily activities, and more. What is scary is that there are some countries in the world in the twenty-first century that are doing some of these things that Orwell was warning about. North Korea is one of the easiest direct examples of controlling its population to the extreme with Kim Jong-un literally being a "Big Brother" that is always watching his people. China's government policing the Internet to take down any information about negative news of its country or recently history. America's right wing politicians and the right wing news organizations like Fox News reporting only news that serves their interest, pushing fear from the opposing side, and most frighteningly by pushing blatant lies like the recent presidential election being "stolen" from them with no evidence whatsoever. Were all of these warnings by Orwell because he predicted them? Or were these the results of political leaders taking direct ideas from his book and bringing them to fruition?

In 1953 there was talk at the BBC to bring the story to the visual medium of television. While the initial script brought forward was rejected, the BBC let writer gave the project to Nigel Kneale, who recently had major success with writing the television series "The Quatermass Experiment", creating the iconic science fiction character of Dr. Bernard Quatermass and kickstarting a series of television works and films with the character over the years. Kneale's take on Orwell's novel kept the dystopian tone intact as well as the charcters and themes while having to make some cuts to some of the world-building elements to fit the two hour runtime. Director Rudolph Cartier, who previously directed "The Quatermass Experiment" six-part series was brought on as well. As a live television play, there would be certain sequences that were pre-filmed, such as ones involving outdoor locations, special effects, and others to accomodate for costume and make-up changes in-between scenes that would be performed live. As like any other stage play, sets and extras would be very minimal in the enclosed television studio, with changes being done invisibly behind the scenes and away from audiences eyes with the cutaways to the pre-filmed insert footage. The technique was an ingenious way for audiences watching on their sets to believe the world that was created much easier, though it was a logistical hassle to get the actors to perform pre-filmed scenes in character without the surrounding sequences before and after. In addition to the actors performing much of their work live during broadcast, this also meant there were possibilities of mistakes with lines, cue misses, as well as technicians and crewmembers missing their marks as well. Three weeks were spent with rehearsals from November 1954, with insert materials being shot first and then the actors timing their live performances with the synchronized inserts. On Sunday, December 12th, 1954, the BBC broadcast "Nineteen Eighty-Four" across the United Kingdom that evening. There were no technical issues to speak of, and the play concluded with the next plan being a repeat of the performance scheduled a few days later, on Thursday, December 16th, with the actors and crew redoing the play live for a second take.

The first broadcast brought forth a number of angry and disgusted calls and letters to the BBC and to newspapers, with audiences being made uncomfortable with the dystopian tale, from its sexual content, the torture sequence, and being inappropriate for family viewing. There were some positive remarks from viewers as well, but the number of complaints seemed to overwhelm the positivity to an almost mythical level. In the modern era, one might think that if something on TV at the moment doesn't interest you, it's easy to just change the channel and watch something else. In 1954 in Britain, there was only one television channel - the BBC. Commercial television broadcast wouldn't start until the following year with ITV. There was no other choice for television programming, and for the mostly Christian nation where Sunday was a day of family and worship, evening television was for a family gathering. Suddenly there comes a broadcast about the dangers of single-channel media broadcasts, lies about the media, an oppressive government, a sexual affair outside of marriage, taking place in a future world without a sense of hope or change. This is all just less than a decade after the horrors of World War II which was still fresh in the minds of the public. It probably was no surprise that there would be an outcry from the public, but that didn't change the BBC's plans with their Thursday night rerun.

As the norm, television plays such as this would not be filmed the first time and rerun, but instead having the actors perform their roles once again, just like an actual stage play. For the second performance, the only thing that was added was a prologue by Michael Barry, the head of drama at the BBC that warns the viewers of the serious content of the play. In addition, the second performance was filmed via the telerecording process for preserveation. There was concern that there might be some sabotaging of the second broadcast so extra security was placed, though there was one minor thing that caused an issue, and that was a missing prop. The snowglobe that Winston picks up in one scene suspiciously disappeared after the first broadcast an was never found. A replacement had to be quickly made, and supposedly there was a figure of Mickey Mouse inserted into the glass ball for that scene. It's not confirmed if this was used, as the surviving telerecording is not very clear to make out if the Disney mascot was there or not. Besides that minor hitch, the second run went well, though the criticism did not die down. Over the years, it became one of the more notorious, yet also one of the best works that early television produced.

The sets, the costumes, and even the props of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" may have been cheaply produced, but the performances and the technical merit were top notch. Peter Cushing and Yvonne Mitchell were excellent in their roles as the leads. Donald Pleasance as government worker Syme brings a memorable role to a minor part. André Morell as the antagonist O'Brien is a towering presence and he is also able to bring grace to a role that is stoic and later menacing. Even with the minimal sets, all the ideas such as the censorship of history, the limiting of spoken vocabulary with the new simplified language of "Newspeak" to limit the citizens, to the use of technology to restrict and monitor were brought to life in creative ways. It truly showcases the talent of the many people involved with the production. Most audiences weren't quite ready for this type of content to appear on television at the time. Thankfully it has been preserved for future generations, as a lot of early television works have not been preserved.

This was actually not the first time that "Nineteen Eighty-Four" was adapted to screen. Just one year prior, the CBS program Studio One adapted "1984" for television in the United States. There was also "The World of George Orwell: 1984" from 1965 for BBC'S "Theatre 625" anthology series. Long thought lost, it was recovered in 2010 though some footage was permanently lost. As for film, it was first brought to movie screens in 1956 with "1984" (also co-starring Donald Pleasance in the role of Syme again) in Hollywood, though the changed ending upset Orwell's widow who then made sure it would never be adapted by Hollywood again. After her death and rights passing from the family, "1984" was filmed and released in the exact year of 1984, directed by Michael Radford and featuring an excellent lead performance by John Hurt as Winson. While acclaimed, it was not a massive hit and had some controversy regarding the music soundtrack at the time of its release. There have also been a number of similar themed productions taking inspiration from the book such as "THX 1138" (1971) (which again co-stars Donald Pleasance in a similar role as Syme), "The Handmaid's Tale" (1990), "The Matrix" (1999), "Children of Men", and the list goes on. For the 1954 television play of "Nineteen Eighty-Four", it has finally come to the Blu-ray format courtesy of the BFI, with a restored transfer using original elements and adding a great number of impressive extras as well.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray / region 2 PAL DVD set


The BFI presents the television play in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4. Three different film elements were combined to reconstruct the film, with the 35mm telerecording negative of the second broadcast and 35mm original negative inserts, both held by the BBC Archive, plus a 35mm telerecording fine grain duplicating positive of the second broadcast held by the BFI National Archive. The elements were scanned and restored in 2K resolution, using the best available elements for the appropriate sequences. The original negative inserts look excellent here as they are from the original source, with sharp detail and little to no damage marks. The telerecording sequences are weak as expected, as this process is by filming the broadcast directly off a synchronized standard definition monitor, which used the 50Hz 405-line television system at 25fps. The image is blurry, lacking depth, greyscale being soft, and damage marks being prominent. Though these portions have had restoration techniques applied, there is only so much that can be done to the film. So there are drastic differences between the live broadcast segments and the pre-filmed insert scenes taken from the original negative, which is a bit jarring on viewing. The BFI considered presenting the play with only the telerecording scenes in a restored state for a uniform image throughout, but the decision was made to show the inserts with the best available elements instead. It's sad to think that many television plays, films, and series episodes have been lost over time due to elements not being preserved, so it is a miracle that the insert scenes themselves survive here in this excellent state. The presentation is in the 25fps rate, which is how it was originally broadcast in the United Kingdom in 1954.

The runtime is 113:23, which is preceded by an onscreen 1:50 introduction from then BBC head of drama Michael Barry for the second broadcast.


English LPCM 1.0
The original mono track was transferred from magnetic audio tracks held by the BBC Archive. The audio fares well with the restoration removing hiss, pops, crackle and other defects to leave a clean and well balanced audio track, though it does have its limitations. There is some flatness at times and the live recorded music is also the same. But thankfully there are no missing pieces, no major damage, being fairly clear with dialogue throughout.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font.


This is a dual format set. The play and the extras on the Blu-ray are repeated in standard definitional PAL on the DVD.

DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Audio commentary by television historians Jon Dear, Toby Hadoke and Andy Murray (2022)
In this newly recorded audio commentary, Bergcast podcast host and writer Jon Dear is joined by actor/comedian/Nigel Neale fan Toby Hadoke and writer of "Into The Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale" Andy Murray to discuss the television play and more. Discussed are Kneale's career, Cartier's biography, the difficulties with the live studio production, information on other crew and cast members, the mystery of the missing snowglobe prop, the reception and legacy, plus much more. As they were not recorded together in the same recording booth and done remotely instead, there are some issues with audio and quality leveles between the participants.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Nigel Kneale: Into the Unknown - An Introduction to the Work of Nigel Kneale with Andy Murray and Toby Hadoke" Screentalk at HOME Manchester, 9th of January 2022 (72:16)
This on stage talk session has Murray and Hadoke discussing the life of Kneale and his works in television and film. Recorded after the above commentary track (as referenced in one of the later Q&A portion), there is some overlapping information from the commentary though this talk event is more on Kneale's career as a whole so there is more information on the Quatermass series as well as "Halloween III" which was a bit of a surprise to hear. The event was captured in a single camera setup and audio is not from a direct audio feed, so there is a bit of echo at times.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Late Night Line-Up: BBC 2 27th of November 1965" 1965 excerpt (23:39)
In this vintage BBC 2 television show except presented by host Nicholas Tresilian, it is a look back at the now legendary broadcast of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" just over a decade ago, featuring interviews with Cartier, Dean, Cushing, Mitchell, Morell, as well as readings of some of the negative and postive letters received. Talked about are the making-of, the rehearsals, specific sequences, the reactions, and more, The video quality is slightly weak, though the audio serves much better here.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English LPCM 1.0 without subtitles

"The Ministry of Truth: Nineteen Eighty-Four" 2022 conversation with the BFI's Dick Fiddy and television historian Oliver Wake (23:55)
This new conversation has Dick Fiddy asking questions to Oliver Wake about some of the many rumors and legends surrounding "Nineteen Eighty-Four", from how much was sensationalized reactions and what actually happened. From the reations the play received, the story of a woman dying during its broadcase, the snowglobe incident, the state of television in the UK at the time, and more are answered.
in 1080i50 AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Photo Gallery (7 images) (1:50)
An automated silent slideshow gallery of black and white stills and call sheets.
in 1080i50 MPEG-2

Original Script (112 pages)
The original script is presented in a manual slideshow gallery.
in 1080i50 MPEG-2

- Original Script (112 pages) (PDF format)

The disc also has an option to download the script in the PDF format through a BD-ROM drive.

The play and the extras are repeated in standard definition. Though the only difference seems to be that the original script is only available as a downloadable PDF format via DVD-ROM, rather than how the Blu-ray presents it on the standard playback menu as well as a downloadable PDF via BD-ROM.

A 28 page booklet is included with the first pressing. First is the essay "A Timely Warning" by Oliver Wake, in which some information from the conversation on disc is repeated, but here is much more all encompassing of the production, with information on Orwell, the production, and reception. Next is "It's Like Nineteen Eighty-Four..." by David Ryan, author of "George Orwell on Screen: Adaptations, Documentaries and Docudramas on Film and Television", which looks at the various adaptations the novel had over the many years in various media forms. Oliver Wake returns with a written biography of Cartier, and there are full film credits, special features information, transfer information, acknowledgements, and stills included.

The extras are excellent in this set with both new and vintage materials, covering many aspects of the production and reception. High marks here from the BFI.

A restored insert clip of the film, courtesy of the BFI.

An excerpt of the "Late Night Line-Up" episode found on the disc.


The television adaptation of "Nineteen Eighty-Four" may be over half a century old and have minimal setpieces with its production, it was able to capture a strong sense of dystopia with the great performances and technical skills of the period. While the telerecording transfer may be difficult for the eyes at first, the restored scenes look incredible and the extras that the BFI have provided are excellent. Highly recommended.

The Film: A Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A-


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