I doubt many people alive today – if any at all – would know what it was like to listen to George Orwell speak as there were no recordings made of his voice, nor was he ever captured on video camera. However, with the use of actors, photographs, interviews with his peers and quotes from his vast array of works, the BBC have created a documentary showing what it might have been like to be in the same room with the great man.
George Orwell: A Life in Pictures is a visual, chronological depiction of the writer’s life from his ‘lower upper middle class’ upbringing to his painful death of turberculosis in 1950. It gives details on his trips to Burma, Spain and Paris as he fought to reveal the true suffering of the lower classes, and it hints at the difficulties he faced with his personal life as he became more and more affected by his political inclinations.
Chris Langham stars as George Orwell, an actor who shows a fairly close physical likeness to the writer but who’s flippantly smug countenance somewhat undermines the seriousness of the documentary. The faux home videos of Orwell and Eileen O’Shaughnessy have an odd Chaplin-esque quality about them, and the strange doctoring of Langham’s smirking face looming at the edge of famous photographs was an awkward and clumsy move in an otherwise well produced and interesting film.
Aside from the occasional bout of ridiculousness, the BBC have done a remarkable job in giving a detailed account of a very full and fascinating life. I was particularly moved by the coverage of Orwell’s trip to northern England as the quotes used to illustrate the incredible poverty witnessed were harrowing, disturbing and painfully honest. It shocked me how desperate things were back then, how tragic, and how unnoticed.
I don’t believe the documentary offered any new information on Orwell, but it did give an idea of how important his work was and how his attitude helped shape the recovery of the country after the horrific events of World War Two. Although it would be impossible to delve completely into the intricacies of fascism, totalitarianism and communism in ninety minutes, we are certainly pitched a well-rounded overview.
So all in all, although I highly recommend this documentary I don’t agree with depicting Orwell as a quaint, silly hobbyist because, although perhaps an eccentric, the man was a self-sacrificing, hard-working genius – and no, I don’t use the word genius lightly. He may not have been the most intelligent man in the world or the best prose writer, but he did absolutely everything he could do at a horrible, petrifying time in history. He gave himself completely to the cause of freedom as he could see through the lies he was being smothered with. Also, he…well, the man had balls, basically. He had the balls to face what so many ignored, and for that he deserves more respect than I felt Chris Langham gave him.
You can watch the full documentary below on Youtube.