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The War Game
The War Game is a 1965 television film on nuclear war. Written, directed, and produced by Peter Watkins for the BBC's The Wednesday Play strand, its clear and cool depiction of the impact of Soviet nuclear attack on Britain caused dismay within the BBC and in government. It was scheduled for August 6, 1966 (the anniversary of the Hiroshima attack) but was not transmitted until 1985, the corporation publicly stating that "the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting". But the film was actually stopped due to political pressure, supported by the tabloids who saw the film as "CND propaganda".
The film won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 1966. It was widely viewed before its BBC debut on video and in art-house cinemas, often using prints provided by Watkins in spite of the BBC's refusal to grant legal rights to show the film.
It is shot in contemporary news-style in black-and-white and runs for only 50 minutes. It covers a period of some four months from the days leading up to nuclear attack. The film's war is started following the Chinese invasion of South Vietnam, after which the tensions escalate until NATO pre-emptively strikes at the USSR, who return fire.
The film has several strands which alternate throughout: a documentary-style chronology of the main events; brief contemporary interviews, asking passersby about their knowledge of nuclear war issues; comically optimistic commentary from public figures; and fictional interviews with key figures as the war unfolds.
The action is concentrated on the town of Rochester in Kent. The film depicts the chaos of the build-up to the attack when there is the enforced evacuation of the urban population, and then the immediate effects of the nuclear strike. The rest of the film "documents" the collapse of society and then civilization in the radiation-sick and psychologically damaged population of the aftermath. The narration occasionally breaks away from the fictional scenario to remind the audience that the civil defense policies of 1965 did not realistically prepare for such events, and that perhaps no adequate preparation is possible; it emphasizes that the government and the public have wrongly thought of nuclear war as a survivable ordeal like the Blitz, when it is more likely to resemble the devastating firebombing of German and Japanese cities in World War II, but on a much larger scale.
Compared to more modern films such as The Day After (US TV film, 1983) or Threads (BBC, 1984), the mix of drama and documentary in The War Game, both with a documentary look, has a different and disorientating effect compared to the more conventional later films.
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