There is no footage of George Orwell, no recordings of his voice, just assorted photographs, and of course, his writing, his brilliant writing, which forms the basis of this Emmy award-winning documentary George Orwell - A Life in Pictures.
This documentary recreates Orwell’s life through a series of imaginary film clips, fictional archive news stories, and the sort of documentary films Orwell may have made. Chris Langham is Orwell and he brings a warmth, intelligence and humanity to the role.
Best known for his star performance in The Thick of It, and his work with Spike Milligan and The Muppets, Langham has become a controversial figure of late as he was sent to gaol in 2005 for downloading hard core child pornography. He said he did it for research, for a character he was playing on a TV series. Well, you would, wouldn’t? You’re not going to say it was just for the hell-of-it or, you wanted to knock one out, are you? But Langham has served his time and accepted responsibility for his actions. However, this knowledge can make this excellent documentary problematic to watch, though Langham’s performance is superb, and the content of this documentary - George Orwell’s writing - essential viewing.
Though this all perhaps raises a bigger question, as to whether creative works can be viewed separately from the lives of its creators? Can we read William Burroughs without considering the senseless murder of his wife, or his use of young boys for sex? Can we read Philip Larkin’s poetry without thinking about his racism? Or, look at Eric Gill’s vast output - from religious sculpture to typeface - without thinking he sexually abused his daughters and fucked the family pets? Unlike these reprobates, Langham has served his time, and all we can do is to be aware of what has happened, before choosing our own response to it.
Ultimately, the issue is perhaps subverted by the importance and quality of Orwell’s writing, which Langham brings brilliantly to life.