The Cold War’s Most Sociopolitically Vital Film


The overdue DVD’ing of Peter Watkins’s long-marginalized, cry-in-the-wilderness corpus hits its stride with his most notorious film, and the one that earned him the mantle of outcast saint: 1966’s The War Game. Commissioned and then banned from world TV by the BBC for purely political reasons, Watkins’s 49-minute Oscar winner merely spreads out for the layman what a nuclear attack on English soil would look and feel like, with grueling details lifted straight from the British government’s own cost analysis and contingency plans. It may have been the Cold War’s most sociopolitically vital film, and it’s a straight arrow—Watkins’s trademarked faux-doc tropes are in use, but the film never sheds its narrated what-if role, braking short of the scalding sci-fi Watkins has used elsewhere. Still, it’s a hammer blow, required viewing, and a keystone into the filmmaker’s activist vision. Also on the disc: Watkins’s superb first BBC film, Culloden (1964), which maintains its mock-doc guise doggedly as appalled cameramen witness the English suppression of Jacobite highlanders in 1746, etching a clear parable about the escalating “peace actions” then under way in Vietnam. With scholarly commentaries and a detailed essay about The War Game‘s history of censorship.

Archive Highlights