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Britflix: The War Game

1965’s The War Game is a little known, but very important 50 minute film, with it being the only fictional film to ever win an Academy Award for Best Documentary. Upon its original broadcast in the UK, The War Game became highly controversial and was not seen again, until the 40th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

The War Game is a what-if documentary about the impact of nuclear war on Britain. The scenario envisioned is the Cold War heats up when China invades South Vietnam and the United States threatening nuclear strikes. In retaliation the Eastern Block besiege West Berlin and war erupts in Europe.

the war game still - family

On the Home Front, the British Government declares a state of emergency, forcing the evacuation of children, women and disabled people to rural areas of the nation and make civilian preparations for nuclear war, before looking at the impact of a nuclear  strike on the town of Rochester, Kent in South East England.

The War Game is stark, shocking and very harrowing piece of work. Even today it is a film that can stun anyone into silent. It is easy to imagine how scary The War Game would have been in the 60s when nuclear warfare was much more likely and the Cuban Missile Crisis was a recent memory.

the war game still - war warrent
The mission statement was to show how underprepared British civilian defense and the public were towards nuclear war and show the horrors of a strike. The War Game excels at showing the social impact of the war, as people are stretched during the evacuation, the collapse of medical services and the police turning into a very thin blue line.

The filmmakers used all the knowledge they had available to them at the time. The aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and how the Germans and Japanese civilian population dealt with the firebombing of their cities during the Second World War where used as a basis about how the strike would affect people, whilst scientific and  military information was used to reveal many scary facts, such as how much of Great Britain would have been affected, even the zones where people were evaluated to.

The use of the documentary style with the matter-of-fact narration added a scene of realism and authenticity, making the even more powerful then a traditional narrative and able to show the wide extend of the situation. Director Peter Watkins came up with many shocking images during and after the after, showing children being caught up in the devastation, firefighters dying in the line of duty and police officers having to take very desperate measures as society breaks down.

The War Game firing squad scene

The War Game used a cast of non-professional actors and they do an excellent job with their portrayals of regular people surviving, dying or having to work during the crisis, as Watkins films the world of The War Game as it is or interviews someone tell their story.

The War Game does show a truly horrific scenario that is frightening to watch. It is a very powerful piece of filmmaking and serves as a gold standard for the faux-documentary subgenre and highly influential on movies like The Day After and Threads. It still has a massive impact even after nearly after 50 years.

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