The War Game

Movie Information

Genre: Faux Documentary Drama
Director: Peter Watkins
Starring: Michael Aspel, Peter Graham, Kathy Staff, Peter Watkins
Rated: NR

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

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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2 thoughts on “The War Game

  1. michael

    I showed this film on our college campus in 1967. There was an interesting reaction at the end of the film. As the credits were rolling, the projectionist started to stop the projector. I told him,”to let it roll.” The green leader came up on the screen and I did the same thing. Finally, after about 3-5 mins of the film flapping as the reel turned, I let it stop. The audience was sitting in stunned silence and finally left a few mins later.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I have no trouble at all believing that. This is powerful stuff.

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