This is what television should be for, 4 September 2009
Author: gundognc from United Kingdom
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.