With 1984 having recently been revealed to be the book that people are
most likely to have lied about having read it is worth remembering the
man who wrote it, George Orwell. He remains perhaps the single most
important literary voice of the 20th century. Unlike his contemporary
left-wing writers Orwell actually became one of the dispossessed for
whom he strove throughout his life and, consequently, was able to
challenge ivory-tower intellectual leftism from a position of strength
and knowledge. When the people of Spain rose up against fascism he did
not write pamphlets in their support but picked up a rifle and went to
fight. He combined a desire for revolution (which he believed to be the
only way to improve the lot of the poor) with a fiery patriotism which
celebrated the best things about the country and derided the worst. He
was an idealist who was prepared to accept pragmatic realities. All
this comes across with great force in George Orwell: A Life in Pictures
(hereafter "A Life in Pictures").
Made by or for BBC4 in 2003 A Life in Pictures is a fascinating film
which straddles the boundary between cinema and documentary. Orwell
died in 1950 after the completion of his magnum opus 1984. Despite
having lived in a time in which motion picture cameras and audio
recording equipment were generally available there is no film of him
and not one single recording of his voice survives anywhere. The film
is an attempt to create a visual record of George Orwell's life. Orwell
himself is played by Chris Langham who does a masterful job of bringing
the author to life and not only that but looks so like him that in many
photographs it is sometimes impossible to tell whether you are looking
at the actor or the original.
The point is made early on that while the pictures are invented the
words are not and everything that Langham (as Orwell) says during the
film is something that Orwell wrote. It is a testament to Orwell's
writing that it can be spoken by an actor and sound convincingly like
the answer to a question or a piece of normal conversation. What the
film does brilliantly is to clearly demonstrate to someone who is not
familiar with Orwell's work that he was not a one-hit-wonder who
produced one great book and disappeared but rather someone who evolved
over a long and distinguished career to the point where the writing of
1984 was not a choice for him but an imperative.
The film follows a roughly chronological order starting with Orwell's
schooling and ending with his death shortly after the publication of
1984. The images are brilliantly and beautifully created and in
conjunction with Orwell's words are some of the most memorable pieces
of film I have seen in a long time.
WATCH THIS FILM. Seriously, watch it, buy a copy and give it to someone
else and force them to watch it. Orwell was a hero, he deserves to be
celebrated, known and most importantly read.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?