The number of movies I consider perfect I can count on one hand. I am amazed that 1984 ever reached the theaters. In an age when studios insisted upon "happy endings" and most movies would not show "evil to triumph," to see a film stay so true to such a tragic book came as a bit of a shock to me at the time. The Great British actor, John Hurt, looked born to play Winston Smith, the quietly sad but defiant man who rewrites history for a living but hates the accumulating mountain of lies the totalitarian government tells its citizens. Equally so, Suzanna Hamilton (sadly not well known to American audiences) was born to play Julia. And I could not imagine a better choice for O'Brien: Richard Burton, in his last feature film performance.
Filmed in London in the year 1984, one of the many surprising qualities of the movie results from it having most (maybe all?) of its exterior scenes filmed at the times and in the places where the novel takes place. I recall as I watched this for the first time that I noticed how the real London of the actual year 1984 so closely matched Orwell's descriptions in the novel of the same time and place.
Burton affects such a kindly, fatherly manner in every scene - you may find yourself liking his character. But those who read the book know that he embodies the "Orwellian" state. Burton made his O'Brien a particularly chilling character from the start when he makes the two lovers think he's on their side to the end, and throughout all the scenes of Winston's interrogation and brain-washing, he wears that same fatherly expression on his face and speaks with that same soft, pensive tone in his voice.
Note about the Mechanics Institute copy: The film prints shown in the theatrical release of the movie had the colors "desaturated" (called the "Bleach Bypass" effect, which takes place during the process of making the prints from the negatives). This was done to "enhance the dystopian tone" of the film. But some of the early VHS and DVD releases have their digital images taken from the negatives and therefore without the intentional desaturated color. Subsequent DVD and Blu Ray releases reversed this lack of effect. I have researched the matter and checked the DVD in our collection to confirm that it has the original desaturated color of the prints initially shown in theaters in 1984.