The Last Man in Europe
Details & Synopsis
Written by James Roblin / Directed by Luke Rodgers
THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE is set on the remote isle of Jura, and at Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride. It’s the story of the final years of George Orwell, during which he fought and finally lost a long battle with tuberculosis at the age of forty-six. TB took Orwell’s life, but not before he could deliver the dark dystopian visions of Nineteen Eighty-Four, perhaps the 20th century’s most vital novel. Illness never broke his ‘crystal spirit’.
In 1946, George Orwell escaped the creative suffocation of life in London, seeking refuge at a formerly abandoned farmhouse on the island of Jura, Scotland. He was a widower and single father to an adopted infant son. Miles from anything that might be called ‘society’, Barnhill was a refuge on the edge of the continent, far from the atomic bombs of feared future wars. With little else but solitude and a sea view, Orwell embraced a Robinson Crusoe-esque existence, and shortly began work on a long-planned novel, ‘The Last Man in Europe’, an urgent cry against totalitarianism. Thus Winston Smith and his clandestine diary came into being.
Orwell was joined by his formidable sister, his son and nanny. Other characters drifted in and out of this private world. The wild coast of Jura was a place of intrepid adventure and creative endeavour, but it was also the scene of discord, of a famous and near fatal shipwreck, and of post-war paranoia. One guest, whom Orwell suspected of being a Communist assassin, felt that he’d ‘walked onto the set of a Kafka-esque drama being played out in Orwell’s own mind’.
Orwell had suffered from illnesses of the lungs throughout his life, but as he wrote the novel that would become Nineteen Eighty-Four, his condition deteriorated rapidly. He collapsed. He was removed to the mainland and admitted to Hairmyres Hospital, where he was diagnosed with advanced pulmonary tuberculosis. Forced to rest and denied his typewriter, he gave instructions for his manuscript – which he confessed to be a ‘ghastly mess’ – to be destroyed should he not survive to complete it. Like millions of others, Orwell was fighting a fatal disease which medical science had yet to defeat. He endured the tortures of ‘collapse therapy’. A cutting edge drug was painstakingly acquired from the U.S. Orwell suffered severe allergic reactions to the chemotherapy. The treatment was aborted, but it had gained him some improvement. After seven months’ hiatus, spent in a dogged fight for his health, Orwell returned to Jura, determined to complete his work.
From his bed at Barnhill, Orwell finally finished his novel. But once again the effort exhausted his health. He left Jura for the last time, and the remainder of his life he spent in hospital beds. Those months included a second marriage, and dreams of Swiss mountains and works he still hoped to write, but Nineteen Eighty-Four was to be his final legacy.
This is a remarkable, little-known story about a remarkable character and the creation of one of the most enduring works in English literature, its importance and resonance growing ever more as the 21st century advances. The drama is bolstered by an inherently cinematic backdrop in the contrasting visual worlds of Jura and Hairmyres. We’re in touch with the Orwell Estate, who have licensed us to adapt the life and to draw on relevant materials. We have a treatment developed from months of reading and research, of digging for unpublished details buried in archives and biographers’ notes. We are currently looking to partner with a producer, who would ideally based in Scotland, and who can invest themselves in telling this story with passion and energy.