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War Game, The (1966)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of War Game, The (1966)
DirectorPeter Watkins
Production CompanyBBC
ProducerPeter Watkins
ScreenplayPeter Watkins
CinematographyPeter Bartlett

Cast: Michael Aspel, Dick Graham (commentators)

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A bleak account of a nuclear attack on Kent and its aftermath, mixing drama with documentary styles.

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Intended for broadcast in 1965, writer / director Peter Watkins' nuclear war drama was withheld by the BBC - possibly as a result of political pressure - and remained unshown for nearly twenty years, finally being transmitted on 31st July 1985.

Continuing the experiments in blending fiction and documentary techniques which he had begun with his earlier play Culloden (1964), Watkins presented data drawn from his detailed research - encompassing interviews, Civil Defence documents, scientific studies and accounts of the effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts and the non-nuclear devastation of Dresden, Hamburg and other cities during World War II - in the form of charts, quotes and vox-pop style face-to-face interviews with ordinary people. These he embedded into his own imagined scenario of the impact of a blast in Kent following the escalation of an East-West conflict.

The result was a controversial and harrowing film which, after the BBC had reluctantly allowed a cinema release (distributed by the British Film Institute), garnered huge critical praise internationally, winning a number of prizes, including an Academy Award (intriguingly in the Best Documentary category). The film had a significant influence on the growing Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Furious after his battle with the BBC, Watkins left the UK, and for more than thirty years has worked largely in Scandinavia. He continues to make highly political work: his La Commune (2000) - a six-hour re-enactment of the 1871 Paris Commune which examined the role of media in the modern global economy and featured a cast of non-professionals - was commissioned for French television channel Arte.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Emergency provisions (3:31)
2. The attack (3:14)
3. The aftermath (3:52)
4. Radiation exposure (2:09)
Production stills
Advice to Householders (1964)
Seven Days to Noon (1950)
Sheffield is Calling You (1954)
Threads (1984)
Watkins, Peter (1935-)
Political Film
Drama Documentary
The Television Play