Executive Producer Marvin J. Rosenblum, a Chicago lawyer, secured the film rights to the novel from Orwell's widow, Sonia Brownell, shortly before she died in 1980. It took a lot of persuading on Mr. Rosenblum's part before Mrs. Orwell eventually agreed to allow him to produce the film only under the stipulation that no futuristic sci-fi special effects be used to tell the story. Mrs. Orwell was said to have hated the 1956 version of 1984 (1956) starring Edmond O'Brien and Jan Sterling. She was also appalled when David Bowie proposed turning "Nineteen Eighty-four" into a rock musical in the mid-1970s.
The movie was filmed during April, May and June 1984. The picture's closing credits declare that "this film was photographed in and around London during the period April-June 1984, the exact time and setting imagined by the author [George Orwell]".
Richard Branson's Virgin Films, the production company bankrolling the movie, had wanted a commercially viable pop act to compose the music for the film to increase its market potential. Originally they approached David Bowie, who had used Orwell's novel as inspiration for some songs on his 1974 album, "Diamond Dogs", but he demanded too much money for the job. They opted instead for Eurythmics, who had initially turned down the offer but later accepted. Director Michael Radford was unaware of this plan and had already hired Dominic Muldowney to compose the entirety of the film's musical score. Virgin Films exercised their right of final cut and replaced most of Muldowney's score with the Eurythmics score for the film's theatrical release (some of Muldowney's score remained, particularly the state anthem, "Oceania, 'Tis for Thee"). Radford was displeased with this development and retaliated by withdrawing the film for consideration for BAFTA award for Best Picture. When the film did win the Evening Standard award for Best Film of the Year, Radford used his acceptance speech at the nationally televised ceremony to denounce the Eurythmics involvement. The Eurythmics released a statement that they were unaware of the dispute, and would not have accepted the commission if they had known it was done against the director's consent. The Eurythmics soundtrack was released as the album "1984 (For the Love of Big Brother)" in 1984; the complete Muldowney score was finally released as a limited-edition CD "Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Music of Oceania" in 1999, to commemorate the film's 15th anniversary. All home video versions have used the theatrical Eurythmics score except a 2003 DVD release that featured the Muldowney score; this version quickly went out of print. All releases of the film, with both versions of the score, have jointly credited Eurythmics and Muldowney in both the opening and closing credits.
Director Michael Radford and cinematographer Roger Deakins originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but the financial backers of the production, Virgin Films, opposed this idea. Instead Deakins used a film processing technique called bleach bypass to create the distinctive washed-out look of the film's color visuals. The film is a very rare example of the technique being done on every release print, rather than the inter-negative or inter-positive; as the silver is retained in the print and the lab is unable to reclaim the silver, so the cost is higher, but the retained silver gives a "depth" to the projected image. The 2003 DVD release (the only release to restore Dominic Muldowney's full musical score) was mastered from the original negatives (not a release print), and thus inadvertently restored the film's original color saturation.
Nineteen years earlier, Richard Burton (O'Brien in this film) appeared with Cyril Cusack (Charrington in this film) in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965). Cusack, who plays his boss, says that, although they are civilized and democratic, this does not prohibit them from using unorthodox practices to extract information from their enemies. This mirrors Burton's torture of Winston Smith which is done in "civilized" way.
Director Michael Radford once said of this film: "There are attitudes of doublethink all around us. [George] Orwell pointed it out in a very extreme form. He was writing when the world had just experienced an upheaval from the Right (Nazism) but since then we have an upheaval from the Left (Soviet Communism) and now we can see both sides of it. What I have tried to do is tread a delicate path between satire and parody and make it clear that Orwell was offering a vision of totalitarianism derived from the world he knew. The film is not a pseudo-documentary about what might happen if the Soviets took over Britain. At bottom Nineteen Eighty-Four is about a human being and that's all. Orwell was a philosopher of human decency. There are no references to anything that happened after 1948. This is, in a sense, a period movie. I have tried to make the story utterly real, although the setting is utterly unreal. Everybody behaves as normally as possible, which produces a strange, surreal effect. That's how you feel when you read the book. I think this is the first ever naturalistic science-fiction movie".
Sonia Orwell, George Orwell's widow, signed the contract to allow this movie to be made, on 1st December 1980, whilst in hospital. Nine days later Mrs Orwell passed away. Orwell's widow had originally wanted to have full artistic control over the production but in the end relinquished this when she agreed to the terms and conditions of the contract and signed it.
There was considerable opposition to the casting of Richard Burton as O'Brien, particularly since he had not made a movie in five years. His last film, Lovespell (1981), was filmed in 1979 and was barely released at all.
The world of the State of Oceania was created by the production utilizing technology specially invented for this picture. This included "Speakwrites" (computers) and omnipresent ubiquitous telescreens featuring Big Brother.
The movie was first released in the same year as the picture's "1984" title. The film's source original George Orwell novel of the same name was written in the digit reverse of this, about thirty-six years earlier, in 1948.
Alexandra Palace, London, was built in 1873 as a "pleasure palace of the people" and named after the then-Princess of Wales. It was destroyed by fire a fortnight after opening. The present building was built in 1875 and lasted a bit longer. It was gutted by fire in 1980 and the roofless shell provided the structure for the rallies in Victory Square.
The film features a salute which never was used in the novel. It is done by holding one's arms up and making the wrists cross each other in the shape of a small V. A similar salute is seen in the film, Pink Floyd The Wall (1982). Christine Hargreaves' who plays the soup lady in this film, played Pink's mother in "The Wall".
In the book, the Ministry of Plenty is called mini-plenty in the Newspeak; in the film its Newspeak name is mini-prod, which suggests that its full name is "Ministry of Production". Also, Winston's working place, which is called the Records Department in the novel, is referred to as mini-rec in the Newspeak language of the film.
Producer Simon Perry once said of this movie: "The thought of making the film really excited me. I had read the book when I was fifteen and it had impressed me enormously. Making it into a film would clearly be difficult, particularly the short time available if we were going to release it in the year of the title, but it was the chance of a lifetime".
When released on DVD during the 2000s, due to the popularity of reality TV show series "Big Brother" around the globe, a number of DVD covers for the film featured an extreme close-up shot of the film's "Big Brother" character played by Bob Flag with the tagline "Big Brother is Watching".
According to Wikipedia, Director "Michael Radford and cinematographer Roger Deakins originally wanted to shoot the film in black and white, but the financial backers of the production, Virgin Films, opposed this idea. Instead Deakins used a film processing technique called bleach bypass to create the distinctive washed-out look of the film's color visuals. The film is a very rare example of the technique being done on every release print, rather than the inter-negative or inter-positive; as the silver is retained in the print and the lab is unable to reclaim the silver, so the cost is higher, but the retained silver gives a "depth" to the projected image".
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In the final scene when Winston is playing chess in the Chestnut Tree Cafe, he picks up a white piece from the board and contemplates a move. The arrangement of the pieces on the chess board suggests that he is considering a tactic of going around and hitting the opposing black army from behind. Only minutes later, the telescreen announcer reports that the Oceanian forces had just defeated the Eurasian enemy in Africa by using the same tactic.