Q. What do you get if you cross George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four with the Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico?
A. Andy Croft’s 1948
Granted, that’s a glib opener for a review, barely scratching the surface of this inventive verse-novel. Let’s dig a little deeper: imagine a complete up-ending of Nineteen Eighty-Four where Winston Smith is a journeyman copper, O’Brien his world-weary boss, and Julia so impossibly chaste that there’s barely a suggestion of sexcrime on young Winston’s radar. Moreover, Croft swaps Orwell’s dystopian future for a rigorously imagined alternative history where a Labour-Communist coalition is the ruling party, the Royal Family have made a swift departure for the colonies, and America is threatening economic sanctions. Nonetheless, London is hosting the 1948 Olympics but murder, dockyard strikes and a glamorous Russian agent threaten to disrupt the opening ceremony.
Okay, that’s the Nineteen Eighty-Four part of it. Onto the Ealing: imagine Passport to Pimlico as a film noir directed by Edward Dmytryk or Jules Dassin, all fog and shadows, car chases, dames, handguns, and the occasional cosh applied to the back of the head.
Now take one final aesthetic leap and imagine the whole wacky confection drizzled with humour and served up as a sequence of 150 Pushkin sonnets. Picking perhaps the most obscure sonnet form available, Croft dazzles with his wit and wordplay, a feat made more impressive in that he doesn’t just narrate the entire seven chapter novel in verse: the dedication, contents page and acknowledgements are also sonnets. This is the kind of showmanship that could easily have been too clever for its own good, but 1948 remains entertaining and immensely readable throughout. If you’re a fan of Orwell, Ealing, contemporary poetry, or just plain curious about the kind of eccentric talent that throws all of these cultural touchstones into the blender, this is essential reading.
Neil Fulwood has published three books on film. He is a member of Nottingham Poetry Society.