The War Game (1965)

Article 2437 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-3-2007
Posting Date: 4-14-2008
Directed by Peter Watkins
Featuring Michael Aspel, Peter Graham, Kathy Staff

This was not the first of Peter Watkins “documentaries” – that is to say, fictional works shot in a documentary style – but it is his best known work, and it’s the first one that’s genre enough to be covered in this series. I’ve seen two others of his, PUNISHMENT PARK and PRIVILEGE , and though both are good, they feel somewhat contrived and lose some of their power as a result. Not so this one. Here he takes an unflinching look at the preparations for and the aftermath of a nuclear attack on England. It’s utterly convincing, shocking and devastating, while at the same time, it avoids being hysterical or preachy. This was produced for the BBC but not telecast due to its graphic nature (or its refusal to kowtow the somewhat rosier official view of the survivability of nuclear war by the authorities, depending on who you talk to). Nevertheless, it managed to get official theatrical release, and won the Oscar for best documentary (despite not being a real documentary, a circumstance which caused the Academy to change its rules regarding documentaries). It doesn’t just dwell on the physical aspects of such an attack, but on the psychological and social ones as well, and this extra level gives the movie its power. Though it doesn’t preach, the message comes through loud and clear; there will be very little we can do afterwards, so our best hope is to prevent it from ever coming about. Still, even there one is left in doubt, as the movie recognizes that human nature is what it is. This is one you won’t soon forget.


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