What If? - Nineteen Eighty Four

1984

The book was superb, the film brilliant, so why does Steve Taylor-Bryant want to change perfection? Read on...

A cold April in 1984 and the city of London is a sprawling, crumbling mess. Oceania is at war with Eastasia and the Party broadcast their propaganda to the masses via telescreens. The telescreens do more than just broadcast though, they watch your every move, word and emotional response. It is all part of Big Brothers Ministry of Love surveillance system and used by the Thought Police to punish thoughtcrime. Winston Smith is part of the Outer Party and works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth changing the past and spreading lies and propaganda for the Party. Winston eventually tires of the lies and starts to question the Party’s goals, making him guilty of thoughtcrime in the process. Julia, from the ultra-zealous Anti Sex League starts to watch Winston and he becomes convinced that she is an informant. However, she is not and they start an illicit relationship which makes Winston want to know more about the differences between the propaganda they serve up and reality. He teams up with O’Brien who is part of the Inner Party and Winston starts his dangerous journey of discovery.

I revisited the book for /G-f (review here). I hadn’t read it for many a year and had forgotten the film completely so watched it again the other night. I was going to do a straight review, one of our classic or cult articles, but I went to bed after watching the movie and dreamt of Anthony Hopkins. It’s not the first time I’ve had a dream unrelated to anything in my life at the time and I paid it no mind until the next night when I dreamt that Hopkins and another actor I admire were in a casting call led by me, yes me, the man with no filmmaking experience whatsoever. Over the course of a couple of nights with similar dreams I arrived at what my mind was trying to tell me. Remake Nineteen Eighty Four, so here it is, my What If?

Winston Smith


1984

Smith was originally played as a middle-aged man by the fabulous John Hurt, and whilst he was superb he looks old in everything, he just has one of those faces (sorry sir!), and I see the Winston of Nineteen Eighty Four as a younger man with all the exuberance that more youthful minds would bring. However, part of Hurt’s locker of many talents is the ability to convey a story with just his face and I wanted an actor that was just the same so I went back to Doctor Who and replaced the War Doctor with number eleven himself Matt Smith. Smith has astonishing talent. He was absolutely superb in Doctor Who, but also in Clone (Womb in some countries) and what I’ve seen of him in Lost River from trailers and TV spots shows he is much more than just a bow-tie and more than capable of stepping into some big shoes.

O’Brien


1984

In what was to be his last screen role, Richard Burton gave one of his best performances as Inner Party member O’Brien. O’Brien is pivotal to the plot of Nineteen Eighty Four and Burton produced an iconic portrayal of a man at odds with his role in the world. Not many an actor could match Burton on his worst day so to fill the void left is a daunting task. So let’s travel back to Burton’s home country of Wales and pick the man, who himself is no slouch at great performances, and the chap who haunted my dreams which led to this piece, Mr Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is just a diamond performer. Flawless at every turn whether playing a ventriloquist in a horror film, a butler in a period piece, or a serial killer in a novel adaptation, Hopkins performs the right mood and the right style every time, and is the only contender for the role of O’Brien.

Julia


1984

Suzanna Hamilton was also brilliant in Nineteen Eighty Four and one of the hardest to recast in this scenario. I didn’t really want an American actress as no matter how great they all are, all the ones that would have been the right age and look that I could think of were a bit Hollywood for my liking. I may be wrong and may have missed out on someone and so I apologise in advance for the oversight and beg that you inform me in the comments section below. I also had the same problem with actresses from the United Kingdom as well. The kind of Suzanna Hamilton style actress just doesn’t seem to exist anymore. I considered, amongst many others, Emma Watson who is showing herself to be extremely talented and formidable in her work but the choice just didn’t sit right with me so I plumped for neither US nor UK and instead raided France for Audrey Tautou from The Da Vinci Code and Dirty Pretty Things.

Charrington


1984

I also see Charrington as quite essential to the way Nineteen Eighty Four works, and I know Parsons et al are too but I only have so many words in an article, and thought Cyril Cusack was superb in the role. I also had an actor in mind I just had to use and Charrington was more of the age I needed than Parsons. Gary Oldman. Oldman is one of my all time favourite actors and one I never get to shoehorn into a What If? Article due to being too old, or too well known, or too good, or too Gary Oldman like, but an iconic film needs iconic actors and I am at peace with myself now as I finally get to use him.

Screenplay


Neil Gaiman

When it comes to writing the original book by George Orwell was superb and must have been quite a task to bring to the screen. I personally thought that director Michael Radford did a pretty good job of transposing Orwell’s vision to the screen himself, but there were a few issues, albeit small ones, and I want my director to concentrate on the performances so am drafting in a man with an incredible imagination of his own to bring our modern version to the screen. Step forward Mr Neil Gaiman. Gaiman has worked before on scripts that see Matt Smith excel, he has written screenplays aplenty, and even adapted classic authors like Philip K. Dick before so I don’t see Orwell being as daunting as it could be, and Gaiman appears, to me anyway, to have an edge to him that may unlock parts of the book that perhaps didn’t come across or were missing in the original film.

Director


David Fincher

Direction time and another decision that kept me awake for a while. The obvious choice for a dystopian nightmare piece is my favourite director and weird world builder Terry Gilliam, but I think there is enough in the narrative and the characters that any other elaborate schemes would just take attention away from the story, so instead I went to my next favourite director who can also do elaborate but is just as much at home in simply telling a story. David Fincher is a great film maker and I don’t think there is a project of his I haven’t liked. From Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network to Gone Girl and the Girl With adaptations, Fincher has told great stories extremely well, and I would love to see how he perceives the London of Oceania visibly as well as mentally.
So there we have it. A classic film remade with, I hope, a lot of thought and some great ideas. If you need me I’ll be asleep over here dreaming of the next actor that wants out of my brain.

Image/s - IMDb.