By Will Barber Taylor
Britain, 1990. The country is run by the bureaucrats of the Home Office’s all-powerful Public Control Department (PCD). Hundreds of thousands of civil servants work hard at monitoring and exposing all possible and imaginary threats to the country. They routinely command sophisticated surveillance of anyone suspected of opposing the status quo; ruthless suppression of independent thought in Special State brainwashing units cunningly disguised as caring rest-homes; and strict rationing of food, alcohol, and travel. Free speech is forbidden. The rule of law no longer protects the vulnerable. Civil liberties are consigned to history as the Orwellian bureaucrats tyrannically impose their intimidating control.
Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward), journalist for The Star, resists the forces of the Establishment. He’s smart, witty and charming. But his subversive acts aren’t going unnoticed, and he risks prison or death at the hands of the PCD’s ruthless controller Herbert Skardon, (Robert Lang), and his provocatively alluring deputy, Delly Lomas (Barbara Kellerman).
Set against the backdrop of a gritty Orwellian landscape, 1990 Series 1 opens with bitter energy. The first episode begins with Jim Kyle, an investigative journalist, demonstrating the corruption of the system he works in. His determination to find justice and subvert Britain’s totalitarian regime is the backbone of the series and one which Woodward emphasises in his portrayal – he gives off an effected charm which helps to hide his inner demons – his desire, like Winston Smith in 1984 to break out of a system that is crushing him. The series charm, wit and intelligence shine through from the first scene. It is one of the 70s best satires, ridiculing the beginning of government monitoring on a large scale. It also lampoons the 70s crusading journalists and plants them in an era in which they must follow the line of the government or else.
Edward Woodward’s central performance is the linchpin which keeps the series together, a performance which is both invigorating as it is reflective. Kyle is a man desperate for change, change that can transform his country from a politically barren wasteland into a free democracy again. Kyle’s desperate need for salvation is shown throughout the series – his need to have some success, any success increases the audience’s empathy for his plight and our desire to see him topple the ruling elite. The psychological aspect of Kyle’s reaction to his grim surroundings are developed in this series and help us to respect Kyle.
In conclusion, the first series of 1990 opens up a world of dark government agencies, brutal police interrogations, thought being controlled and our hero attempting to break down a malignant system from the inside. Whilst some aspects have not aged well – the use of surveillance seems too “disco 70s” to be applicable to the distorted 1990s and some of the “techno language” sounds more like out of a strange Denis Potter play than a terrifying future, it is still enjoyable. The first series of 1990 is a visionary satire of what life could have been had society gone wrong – and it only gets better with the second series.
With thanks to Simply Media. You can buy 1990 Series 1 from all good retailers now.