Nothing — and I mean nothing — that you have heard or read can fully prepare you for Peter Watkins’ 1965 faux documentary on the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Great Britain. Forget Hollywoodized features like On the Beach (1959) or even the well-intentioned U.S. TV film The Day After (1983). This is as unpretty, unflinching a look at the results of nuclear war as you will ever see — shot in a surprisingly effective documentary style that even 41 years later remains fresh and utterly convincing, despite hundreds of later imitations.
Working from the evidence then available, Watkins fashions his film in the manner of a “What if” scenario and creates the nightmare vision of that scenario. The use of authority figures trying to downplay the dangers of nuclear war, religious figures arguing the case for a “just war,” people in the streets proving themselves woefully uneducated, makes the film even more chillingly powerful — and makes it feel horrifically too relevant today. It’s hardly surprising that the very outfit that commissioned the film, the BBC, banned it from broadcast upon seeing it. Like nothing you’ve ever seen. You may be grateful for that, but it’s a work that should be seen at least once.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke