‘1983’ | Netflix Original Series Review

November 30, 2018
Andy -Punter 18
Netflix, TV, TV Reviews
1983 Netflix Review


Fast paced and good looking, 1983 is a dystopian thriller that evokes Orwellian ideas of authoritarianism whilst developing its own characters and a gripping plot.

A dystopian thriller, 1983 is set in an alternative 2003. Poland is subject to totalitarian rule ever since a terror attack twenty years earlier which led to the installing of a dictatorial regime. A young idealistic law student pairs up with a grizzled and disgraced inspector to solve a murder and uncover a plot that will threaten the core of the police state.

This Polish drama is now streaming on Netflix and is well worth your time. Although the themes and plot seem to belong to the 20th Century they serve as a timely reminder of where we are today in our politics. This is a world in which characters are forced to consider whether it is better to have truth or justice; whether it is better to have security (or the illusion of it) or freedom. This is a world in which propaganda has convinced it’s citizens that they have it all, that “the party” provides them with the roadmap for success and the law gives them the guidelines to follow. We, of course, learn that the reality is somewhat different as the story unfolds.

Clearly, this show is drawing heavily on Orwell’s 1984 (the title alone is a homage to the novel). We are given numerous references to “the party”, there are a few great examples of doublespeak, and there are lots of “ministries”. My favourite reference, however, is when a police officer is handed a copy of 1984 as a banned text and can be found in the background of numerous scenes reading the book with a look of increasing horror as he gradually sees the similarities between his world and Orwell’s.

Despite appearing to echo political sentiments of the 20th Century, the idea of “Truth” being a subjective concept has never been more relevant. It is this fact, along with the rise of increasingly extremist politics, that makes 1983 feel relevant and important.

The script is incredibly smart. It is steeped in history and literary references but never beholden to them. There is a risk with a drama like this that you are beaten over the head with the fact that it is trying to reflect some wider societal trend. 1983 manages to walk the line very well; by setting it’s story in an alternative version of 2003 we are given enough real-world cues to believe in it, but the device gives the writers enough room to create a distinctive and unique world. There is a lot of plot to follow and the pace is quick; viewers need to be paying attention to fully catch what is going on.

The show looks fantastic. Unsurprisingly for a dystopia, the set design is dark and grey, reflecting the idea of an Eastern European dictatorship but without ramming it down your throat. Whilst there are signs of decay, plenty of characters are well dressed and there are also signs of economic success. The way that the camera moves throughout is also impressive, the occasional switch to a handheld camera makes the viewer complicit in the unfolding plot and the direction is consistently interesting. My only complaint is the sound dubbing; this is very clunky and distracting and about 5 minutes in I turned the sound to the original Polish with English subtitles, which was much better.

This is an unexpected gem from Netflix with lots of interesting themes that feel weighty and relevant. The characters are interesting and complex, it looks wonderful and for those of you with even a passing interest in politics, there is much to enjoy.

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18 thoughts on “‘1983’ | Netflix Original Series Review

  • November 30, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    I think the series is great. I particularly like the dystopian electro sound track and despite what you said, i think the dubbing is actually pretty good!

    • December 4, 2018 at 5:19 pm

      If you happen to use subtitles, you’ll find the subtitles are totally different than the dubbed track. Very confusing and distracting.

      • December 4, 2018 at 5:24 pm

        So just use the original polish track with subtitles? Why would anybody use English dubbing plus subtitles?

  • December 1, 2018 at 12:18 am

    absolutely must watch! well scripted and directed. It also has a lot of metaphorical references to the right wing populist parties currently in power that often violate democratic standards and civic rights – like the current government in Poland.! Overall very timely series.

  • December 1, 2018 at 10:03 am

    I think you misunderstood one thing. The terror attacks didn’t led to the installation of a dictatorial regime, it caused the dictatorial regime that really existed in Poland to continue (in reality it ended in 1989 and they took the year 1983 in this show because that year the martial law ended and many events leading to the downfall of the regime started). Therefore speaking about the “party” or all the ministries are not references to 1984. Those are references to reality that many people in Poland still remember.

    Also please don’t call us Eastern Europe. Many Poles (and Czech and Slovak) don’t like this. We are Central Europe. Belarus, Ukraine, Russia that’s Eastern Europe.

    Apart from that I am happy that you liked it. Surprisingly many reviewers in Poland didn’t like it, which I don’t understand as I thing it’s a great show.

    • December 4, 2018 at 5:29 pm

      Part of the reason the reviewers didn’t like it was probably because it was done on the cheap. No decent sets at all. The entire movie looks like it was shot in one big warehouse!! This thing was done so cheaply that the entire first episode was shot on staircases. Actors running up and down staircases…..I have never seen so many staircases in my life! Guess you need to be Polish to appreciate this movie…I watch a Netflix movie every night and this is the worse thing I have seen since last Summer. It’s so bad I don’t plan to finish it. The plot is a maze of time flips that make no sense only confuse. If Poland really looks as bad as the movie portrays it , you should leave as soon as you can.

      • December 4, 2018 at 5:40 pm

        What’s the reason to be an a*****e and start insulting someone’s home country? First of all this is a dystopian fiction, so no, Poland doesn’t look like this. It’s actually a beautiful country, and guess what, we don’t have a regime like in this show (it’s not a movie) in power.

        It’s your opinion of the show although I don’t really understand it. The visuals is actually one of the things I liked a lot about this show. This dark and cold environment looks amazing.

        If you can’t follow the plot such type of shows aren’t for you. Those kind of shows usually have complicated plots, but I am really wondering why you have a problem with the time jumps. There is always a note if they jump to 1983 (actually why are you calling it pre 1984? It’s only 1983 and 2003. Not that complicated). There is only one scene in the middle east, so what’s confusing about that? I actually really liked the plot and how every episode explained more to understand the whole picture.

        And still, it’s your opinion. You don’t have to like it but why being rude?

      • December 5, 2018 at 2:01 pm

        In West Wing lots of the action happened in hallways as the characters walked from one office to another. Stairway sounds technically more difficult to film.

    • December 6, 2018 at 6:48 am

      Right!!! Unfortunately many of my countrymen/women fall into the the trap of lumping everyone east of Germany into the Russian identity…which is crazy considering Katyn.

    • December 27, 2018 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks for clearing it up for me, as being in ep2, I feel somewhat lost there. I do love the show: the script, acting,(and chance to improve my Polish ), the pace. Just political situation seems very complicated.

  • December 3, 2018 at 8:01 pm

    This series is one BIG joke. Its hard to list ale the supidity. So we have comunism 1.0 in the 80s. Then they catch we guys from the resistance, blow few bombs and whole polish solidarity movement dissapears ??? then we have comunism 2.0 under some black Bird logo, looking like german eagle ?vand for 20 Years Poles are silent like sheeps. Quite strange for a nation that has long occupancy history and many uprisings. So after 20 Years some junior Resistance movement is on the rise. Those Kids are So sloppy that shopping mall security would destroy them in 5 minutes. But polish FBI can not ? Poland in this movie is shown as a mighty comunist nation with nuclear weapon. Nice Technology that even americans want to buy. But on the Streets there are 40 Years old Car ? and those Foreign spy hahahha polish speaking US agent working for mosad. Give me a brake

    • December 3, 2018 at 9:45 pm

      Long history of occupation, yes. Many uprisings, no.

      Many FAILED uprisings that castrated the Polish people, yes.

      History shows the opposite: Poles aren’t particularly belligerent or rebellious. They’re sheep, pretending to be lions.

      • December 3, 2018 at 10:59 pm

        Ty debilu.

      • December 6, 2018 at 9:25 am

        I don’t remember when I read as much nonsense as what you wrote.

    • December 4, 2018 at 5:43 pm

      You have it exactly right! The plot is a confusing, stupid maze– shot with darkness everywhere and done on the cheap. Probably done in one big warehouse. Even the few times we see a car on an empty road, it is the same empty road. Guess it would cost too much to actually get some good sets and a different bit of scenery. If this is an example of Polish movie ability, I’ll stick with English and Finish detective stories. At least they have good plots and a good production budget, I’m actually mad I wasted my time on the Joke of a movie.

  • December 4, 2018 at 5:17 pm

    This is a Big Dud!! Cheap, Cheap! I have never seen so many staircases in my life. All the beginning scenes have actors running up and down staircases into sparsely furnished rooms. Hardly any street scenes that would require actual money to produce….just sets and it looks it. Action flips between pre 1984 and after in a confusing maze of flips. Then bingo, we are in the Middle East. Dah–I really was having a hard time figuring out what this movie was really about! Movie is dubbed in English and I use sub titles, do to some hearing loss….that is a crazy combo, since the Dubbed words coming out of the actors mouths are different than the sub titles! I’m not finishing this disaster of a movie. Don’t bother to see it unless you want to be bored. All I could think, as the movie progressed, is “This is the cheapest movie I have seen yet on Netflix!” Their standards have definitely gone down. think the plot was confusing and the entire thing looks like it was shot in a warehouse!

  • December 6, 2018 at 6:44 am

    Series is outstanding. Some of the negative comments about the series seem to be the result of a lack of historical knowledge. The political commentary is prescient in today’s environment. It highlights the dangers of socialism/communism et. al. And Episode 3 was a broadside to Facebook in my opinion…danger of social media being used to political purpose. That’s a debate unto itself, and I’m happy to engage. Regardless, the series is beautifully shot, well-written, and worth viewing.

  • December 6, 2018 at 7:33 am

    The series confronts today’s questions of propaganda, fake news, false flag bombings — illusions of conflict between truth and justice, security and freedom. OK, the lighting is bit dim -but that’s not where the torch is directed!

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