Though 1984 is a harrowing novel, I greatly enjoyed it, and it was fascinating to note how closely (and uncomfortably) it resonates with real history and other, subsequent works of dystopian fiction.
V for Vendetta, Equilibrium, The Matrix, Alphaville, Bioshock, Half-Life 2, the cyberpunk sub-genre; all these and more (including a fair portion of real-world political discourse) would not have existed, or would have been very different, without the groundwork laid by Orwell’s 1984.
I am very interested to see the 1984 film adaptation of 1984, as I love the book, John Hurt and Richard Burton.
But if I were to create a new adaptation of 1984, who would I cast?
After some thought, here are my recommendations.
For Winston Smith, you’d need an actor who isn’t in great shape and who can pull off a dogged everyman persona, but who is also very subtle and sensitive.
Honestly, I’d cast Patton Oswalt as Winston, as he’s a great actor and I’d like to see him in more serious roles.
For Julia, a Party volunteer who is secretly a “rebel from the waist down”, you’d need an actress who is not conventionally attractive but can still be extremely sexy.
Uma Thurman and Charlotte Gainsbourg are too old (for the character; they’re still very attractive women). Shailene Woodley may be a little too young (and rather obvious, after the Divergent series).
I’d ultimately go with Alison Pill as Julia. I personally think Alison Pill is gorgeous, but depending on the role, Pill can either be really beautiful or quite plain, and plainly beautiful, or beautifully plain, is a good way to describe Julia in the novel.
You can also connect Pill to 1984 very easily. Pill played a schoolteacher in Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 brilliant darkly satirical science fiction film, alongside John Hurt, who played Winston Smith in the 1984 film.
But since my pick for Winston is substantially older than the character is in the novel, I might instead cast Sally Hawkins as Julia.
For O’Brien: Hugo Weaving, hands down. I love Hugo Weaving, and he’s got a unique combination of warmth, dignity and menace that would be perfect for O’Brien.
Casting Weaving as O’Brien would also be a nifty, ironic role reversal, given that he played the anarchist revolutionary V in V For Vendetta.
Who should play Syme, Winston’s smart colleague who eventually becomes an unperson? I’d cast Welsh actor and comedian Rob Brydon. Brydon is one of my favourite comedians, and his witty, cynical persona would lend itself well to Syme’s intellectual self-satisfaction.
How about Parsons? Johnny Vegas – that was easy.
What about Mr. Charrington, the prole antique dealer who reveals himself as an agent of the Thought Police? You know what – I’d cast Timothy Dalton. Casting a former Bond in such a small part may sound strange, but Dalton could play Charrington as wise and seemingly frail and unassuming, but then really scary once the disguise is dropped.
Finally, who should play Big Brother? Since Big Brother is just a symbol, he doesn’t need to be played by a real person. Given our anxieties about surveillance and privacy in the Internet age, Big Brother’s appearance could be modeled on Mark Zuckerberg or Larry Page (the current Google CEO), or Big Brother could be based on UK Prime Minister David Cameron, as the UK was recently saddled with another term of conservative government.
You’ll have noticed that of my three leads, two are North American – Patton Oswalt is from the US, and Alison Pill is Canadian – and Hugo Weaving is an Aussie.
I don’t think this casting approach is a problem.
1984 is originally set in London, in what used to be the United Kingdom, but Ingsoc and the Party control the British Isles, much of southern Africa, Australia and both Americas. It’s strongly suggested that Party rule has homogenized and wiped away the identity of everywhere under its dominion, so you could set 1984 in New York, Toronto, Johannesburg or even Melbourne, and it wouldn’t feel significantly different.
If you set 1984 in the (former) United States, this could make the story thematically richer. In setting up its rule in the US, the Party could adapt Ingsoc by integrating the socialistic elements of Democrat policy with the curtailing of societal liberties in conservative Republicanism. The two parties are normally diametrically opposed, so combining their methodologies would be a classic application of doublethink.
Call it “Amerisoc”, if you will.
You could draw a parallel between 1984‘s endless war and the War on Terror (or the War on Drugs). Given America’s deep-seated culture of patriotism and national pride, the Party’s control over the US may be weaker than elsewhere, as the people would reject any large retconning of American history. America’s high gun ownership may also provide a further threat to stable Party rule.
Richard III, starring Sir Ian McKellen, did an outstanding job of transplanting the play’s original setting from the Middle Ages to an alternate history fascist 1930s, and the V For Vendetta film was effective in updating the graphic novel’s Thatcher allegory to a more contemporary commentary on George W. Bush’s presidency.
If those earlier revisions worked, then how about 1984?
So, if I could make a 1984 movie, I’d set it in Washington DC (for added poignancy) and cast Patton Oswalt as Winston, Alison Pill or Sally Hawkins as Julia and Hugo Weaving as O’Brien.
I hope you enjoyed my picks and analysis.