Few novels are arguably as important in today's world as George Orwell's "1984." "Fake news," NSA spying (and Orwell's concept of "Big Brother"), all manner of social control being pushed by ideologues of all sides, seemingly perpetual warfare and the abuses of authoritarian states (and their strongmen leaders) world-wide are seemingly dominant every single day of the news cycle. Indeed, 1984 is depressingly relevant in today's world.

I sat down with actress Suzanna Hamilton who played Julia in Michael Radford's 1984 adaptation of 1984 (starring John Hurt and Richard Burton) which is out now for the first time on Blu-Ray. You can read my interview with Radford from earlier this year by heading here – we talked a bit about 1984, especially the infamous helicopter scene. Suzanna has also been directed by Roman Polanski in 1979's Tess and Sydney Pollack in 1985's Out of Africa, questions we look at in Part 2 of this interview, which will be out Friday, October 12.  

In Part 1 of this interview, Suzanna and I talk about the significance of Orwell's tale in the modern world and his emphasis on totalitarian governments controlling the language because that is how thought it controlled. I have linked in sources and resources as usual – with every instance of the term "fake news" (defined as intentionally, and unequivocally misleading stories) in this interview, having a free resource linked to it that has either studied the phenomenon or is meant to help you the reader become better at identifying "fake news", which is something everyone who uses the web should know how to do, and the necessity of doing it being driven by this most incredible film, actually filmed in 1984.

1984 Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Download. Available now.

1984 Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Download. Available now.

Enjoy part 1 of the interview below and check out 1984 on Blu-Ray in the UK now from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Stay tuned for Part 2 this Friday, October 12.

What was it that initially attracted you to Radford's adaptation of Orwell's work?

As far as books go, he's really faithful to it which is really incredible because the story, the book, is so imbued with a polemic kind of prose. The way the he describes the world is very faithful and imaginative, and very true to the book I think.

Absolutely. It's my understanding Orwell's widow hated the 1956 version of 1984 because it steered Orwell's original ending into less bleak territory – whereas Michael's version kept it more intact – and grounded in a believable reality.

Certainly. We see the horror of the world and of Winston's daily life. That was all represented very well – along with the love story and the whole book. I thought it was – for being such a different film and one adapted from a book – a very powerful film.

I couldn't agree more. Michael is a really fascinating fellow and director. I talked to him last February on his newest film The Music of Silence – which was a really fun interview. But...

I read that interview. It was a good interview. It was lovely.

Suzanna Hamilton as Julia with John Hurt as Winston Smith in 1984. Picture courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Thank you. Going off that chat where Michael and I also talked about the challenges for him in making 1984 – particularly the effects in the helicopter scene – what were the challenges like for you as lead actress?

Well, to play Julia – I was obviously delighted to be cast, particularly opposite John Hurt – the challenges I would say were touching on the representations of war and touching on the representations of such a terrifying reality.

Yeah. The psychology of 1984 I find just as terrifying as its totalitarian reality.

The story seeps with betrayal and Julia is quite the hidden character. To make her credible... really I was very young and looking back... and I would just have to turn up and it was all created – the world was all created – in looking at these fantastic actors who created the world already. I really just turned up.

Holding that reality was a challenge. I think in a funny way it served to firm its effects on me which was possibly from the fear that there was very clear in the story... was that possible? I don't know. But it bled into my psyche and my body... the fear created by such a terrifying story.

The challenge really helped to crystallize the fear which is a huge part of the story.

Michael, you, and everyone involved made that fear very palpable for the audience.

We kind of touched on this, but was there anything else you wanted you to add about what it was like getting into Julia's head space?

In a funny way, I think much of that was covered with what we discussed about the challenges.


I just had to turn up. I just had to put on my costume, walk on the set... do what Mike told me to the best of my ability, and hopefully leave them happy.


The sets were extremely large... we were filming in various rooms, buildings, and areas which were just huge, massive... much of them are changed now but London in the '80s was still warehouses but it also had many more considerably bigger areas.

Those warehouses and other old buildings around were all really utilized by the set designers. They really created this world which kind of became really easy to enter and tell the story...

One example of the huge sets in 1984. The rallies in Victory Square were filmed in the Alexandra Palace, named after the Princess of Wales, and actually burnt down twice: the second time in 1980, four years before 1984 was filmed. Photograph courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Absolutely. One thing I was curious about – pivoting a bit to the philosophy behind Orwell's tale – have you noticed different audience reactions to the film after everything about things like "fake news" dominating the news cycles? It seems to me we're living in an era that would've fit perfectly in the novel.

Interesting. You know I haven't watched the film in quite a few years... I think... can you ask me that again Wess?


Are you asking whether the response to the film has been different?

Yeah. I'm wondering if that response has changed in light of certain concepts that have been dominating much of the news cycle: particularly "fake news" – whether people might be re-discovering 1984 in all its horrible dystopian glory because of that.

I think what's interesting about that, "fake news" has become such a common concept – you know, it's in dictionaries, Trump, and that is exactly the darker side of... it's become accepted.

It's being used as propaganda... which the story, the film touches on. You know the Nazis used propaganda..


You know most everyone uses it, every country uses it to some degree or another.

So now that that Kellyanne [Conway] something or other started using "fake news" as being this sort of acceptable part of life nowadays, it infiltrates our thinking because it's part of the language. Which is what I said in the film (and it says in the book) – it's what a lot of the book is about - "newspeak", "doublethink" – things that are very difficult to convey in film.


And I think that "fake news" aspects of it, I don't follow very precisely what's happened but there's always been spin doctors. Although there haven't always been everywhere: the term "spin doctor" came about in 1984 both in America and in the UK.

It did. The New York Times first used it then in an editorial about the Reagan-Mondale presidential debate.

Yes. We had spin doctors and it suddenly became an acceptable part of politics.

Nowadays with the "fake news", it seems like we've slid down.

I couldn't agree more. That's one thing I find very distressing in the current era – how much of the discourse has become debased.

On the one hand, we've slid down to where "fake news" is acceptable, but on the other hand, thank God, we've got social media and the communications revolution which is exactly the opposite of what Orwell was talking about [in "1984"]. We've all got access to everything... we're affected by the power of that.


That's illustrated by Winston's experience of the wars and time and thinking there will be an atomic war. How the narrative on that changes throughout time.

Right. Where the powers that be keep switching the opposition in the war between East Asia and Eurasia depending upon the capricious whims of the totalitarian state and "Big Brother".

For us, we've never had an atomic war like that – at least not over here – with the descriptions he was talking about.

To go back to the question, I think that has taken away the sting of the really frightening dystopian thinking at the moment and hopefully we'll continue to keep that at bay... we have this extraordinary revolution in communications which empowers the young people, as civilians, against things like "fake news" and the concerns of taking truth and twisting it – however that applies to whatever situation.

Richard Burton as O'Brien (standing) and John Hurt as Winston Smith (lying down) in the pivotal scene in "The Ministry of Love" where Winston is getting de-programmed by the totalitarian state. Picture courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

That is a potent tool against what always seemed to me to be a central theme of 1984: because we think in language, whoever controls the language controls the thought.

Absolutely we know that language affects thought.

That's what Winston's job is, isn't it?

Yeah. "Records editor" in "the Ministry of Truth" – literally rewriting history.

Winston's real passion I think was language. I'm reminded of one of O'Brien's quotes in the book: "it's a beautiful thing isn't it? The destruction of the English language." 


Which of course referred to newspeak which consisted of the English language getting smaller and smaller as words were excised. 

At the capricious whims again of the totalitarian state.

Yeah. They're getting rid of the words they view as threatening. So you don't have "excellent" or "perfect", you only have "good" or "plus good" or "double plus good" which absolutely effects our thinking – like how many words for "love"?


The fact that there's that huge variety is really essential. It makes us human. Like in the book and the film when O'Brien says, "I will stamp out the fate of humanity with a boot. This is the future."

That's why I think it was so frightening. It's relentless. An absolutely relentless turning of the dystopian machine of that world that Orwell went into so deeply and the prose that is so frightening and relentless. It's absolutely relentless and cold...


The totalitarian state in Orwell's world utterly twists words too. Look at "The Ministry of Love" and how it's all about hate.

Yeah. "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." Probably the quote that always stuck out most for me from the novel.

Absolutely. As to audience reactions, I can't really say as I haven't been in the cinema for 1984 in some time.

If the audience is like me, I'm sure it will resonate more because of current events. Which is, I suppose, a big part of what Orwell was aiming for.


Part 2 of the interview will be out here on The 405 this Friday October 12. Enjoy 1984's trailer below.