In a fictional BBC interview, George Orwell recounts the story of James Harrington, a seventeenth century advocate of democracy, who inspired him to write "1984". In this screenplay, Orwell sees Harrington as a civilized man in an uncivilized world, who used his wit and imagination to speak truth to power. Inspired by true events, it traces Harrington's meeting with the Pope in Rome in 1636; his attending to King Charles I when he was a prisoner at Holdenby House, and being on the scaffold when the King was beheaded; his friendship with Henry Neville; the meetings of Harrington's famous Rota Club in 1659, and his subsequent imprisonment after the Restoration. Harrington's belief that government must be the empire of laws and not of men influenced many in colonial America, including William Penn. As John Adams, the second President of the United States stated, Harrington's "Oceana" was a "specimen of that kind of reading which produced the American constitutions."
The screenplay also includes an Afterword written by the author which draws attention to the importance of Harrington's politics to issues facing many of today's parliaments and legislatures. As reformists search for alternatives to the problems of representative institutions, unicameralism, party government, executive dominance, gridlock and adversarial debate, Harrington may seem very relevant.