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Thursday, 31 March 2016

Throwback Thursday: The War Game (1965)


Finally released on Blu-Ray this week, by the BFI, The War Game is Peter Watkin's hugely controversial 1965 docu-drama, shot for the BBC, about a nuclear attack on Great Britain.

A Chinese invasion of South Vietnam sparks fears of a global war, which escalates as the Americans threaten nuclear retaliation against China, and the Russians in turn threaten West Berlin unless the Americans back off.

Famously shot - and set - around where I live in Kent, the 50-year-old film might be dated in some of its global politics, military hardware, vehicles, and fashions, but the deadpan British cynicism - particularly when delivering the half-baked and hopelessly optimistic Civil Defence guidelines or the stalwartly naive views of the Church - feels very modern.

The War Game was informed by government documents of the day - and NATO war games - as well as information extrapolated from the aftermath of the Second World War bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima.

It has a running time of just over three-quarters of an hour, but what starts of as matter-of-fact preparedness for nuclear war becomes increasingly bleak and horrific after the bombs actually drop on Kent.

In a news magazine format, the film deals with not only the physical damage but the emotional trauma of being caught up in a nuclear attack, then the inevitable societal collapse and civil unrest that would come in the wake of such an occurrence.

Strip away the "period dressing" and The War Game remains as harrowing today as it was five decades ago, with many of the sentiments voiced by "the man on the street" still echoing in the proclamations of popularist politicians in 2016.

The Cold War may not be what it once was, but nuclear weapons remain a threat, be it from rogue states or terrorist organisations, and so the message of this documentary is still pertinent.

Legendary critic Kenneth Tynan said The War Game "may be the most important film ever made" and it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 1967, even though the BBC was too afraid to show it for 20 years after they commissioned and financed the film.

You can read about the the documentary being pulled from viewing schedules and Peter Watkin's ensuing fractious relationship with the Beeb on the filmmaker's website here.

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