EXCLUSIVE: George Orwell’s iconic dystopian story 1984 is to become a television series after former ABC chief Paul Lee’s independent studio wiip optioned the rights to Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s 2013 stage show of the same name.
There have been a number of attempts to adapt 1984 for a contemporary screen audience and wiip is the latest out of the gates, working with Icke and Macmillan to transform their 100-minute theatre production into a five-part limited series.
The stage show, based on Orwell’s 1947 science fiction novel, first launched at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2013 and enjoyed three separate runs on the West End. It played at the Hudson Theatre on Broadway in 2017, starring Olivia Wilde and Tom Sturridge.
The play made headlines for its shocking reimagining of Orwell’s vision of denialism, propaganda, endless war, and mass surveillance. Protagonist Winston Smith was depicted in brutal, blood-spattering torture scenes as he grappled with Big Brother’s oppression, and there were reports of audience members fainting and vomiting.
Jennifer Lawrence was said to be among those who found the show too much, making a dash for the bathroom during one particular performance. “As long as I have a play, Jennifer Lawrence has a place to puke,” Wilde jokingly tweeted at the time.
The TV project is being overseen for wiip by David Flynn, who will executive produce alongside Icke, Macmillan, and Lee. Icke and Macmillan said it would be a “bold new version” of Orwell’s story in a world that has developed a dangerous addiction to disinformation.
In a statement, they added: “As the world grapples with democracy and government in our divided age of surveillance, ‘fake news’ and truth decay, the urgency of Orwell’s masterpiece is undeniable. The small screen feels like a natural home for his portrait of a society in which people trust their screens more than the world outside their windows.”
1984 was brought to the screen in Michael Radford’s 1984 feature of the same name, starring John Hurt and Richard Burton. One of the most recent attempts to adapt the novel was overseen by Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass in a long-gestating collaboration with Quiz writer James Graham.
Ultimately, however, Graham conceded that the novel was not easy to reimagine. “Paul and I got very excited about it and then [we realized] it’s a difficult project,” he told Deadline last year. “The book is just so bloody perfect, we started going: ‘Let’s just pause for a second.’ The world of surveillance and tech moves on so quickly, we just needed to have a broader view of it.”
Icke and Macmillan are repped by Casarotto Ramsay & Associates. Wiip’s slate includes Apple TV+ series Dickinson and Danny Boyle’s FX Sex Pistols series Pistol, which was announced on Monday.