This Ain’t Fury Road: THE WAR GAME

There’s nothing that gets movie folks worked up like a dark, serious movie no one wants to see that becomes a source of controversy. Not that moviemakers want to be connected to a flop–I mean, they like APPLAUDING such movies.

A little more choreography and it could’ve been a musical. Or a Star Wars movie.

If you find YouTube videos about Flint Michigan’s water woes so horrifying that you keep looking for more, you’ll love THE WAR GAME. Peter Watkin’s 1966 “fake-umentary’ has long been praised for its depiction of the potential effects of a nuclear attack on Kent, England. Made for airing on the BBC, it was removed from the schedule for being too intense for the public. Even now you can see why; this is grim stuff. What the BBC expected from a movie about nuclear obliteration, I don’t know.

Filmed in the style of a documentary about a fictional nuclear war, the short film was made during the Cold War, when the U.S.S.R. was threatening to take over the world, so, naturally, the end of the world is the fault of the U.S. It’s impressive in how well it recreates the sense of a so-concerned-with-The-Poor Brit television broadcaster observing the plight of the downtrodden when the thoughtless government leads us into a nuclear war. (The solution to all this, of course, being more powerful government.)

Jimmy plays hide and seek with western civilization.

THE WAR GAME is significant in film history as a “realistic” depiction of nuclear war’s impact on regular people, but watching it now, I noticed how far ahead B movies got in front of Respectable Cinema. THE DAY THE WORLD ENDED, THIS IS NOT A DRILL, and countless other examples of Nuclear Cinema were there already, before the Respectable Filmmakers decided to touch on the subject of nuclear insanity. THE WAR GAME was and still is praised for being “Gritty and realistic!” Director Watkin uses handheld black and white footage of working-class and poor people being miserable, which equals Honesty. Dirt = Truth.

There are many bracing moments that make this required viewing for anyone interested in how nuclear war was presented to the public during the Cold War. English bobbies opening fire on rioting citizens, the pathetic defenses left to the common people (my advice after seeing this: buy a dining room table made of lead), and the depiction of death by nuclear fire, shocking for its time, and shocking now.

Lasting 47 minutes, THE WAR GAME is still a struggle to get through. Watched as a relic, you can appreciate the successful attempt to recreate the way a news magazine show would depict such an event: there’s no need to spin something so awful. The sense of a society coming undone while we all just watch is palpable. I suspect this had more impact on people who could still recall what England endured during WW2, but even at this remove it’s potent. It would be a different film if made today.

It’s also boring.

THE WAR GAME was shown 20 years after it was originally scheduled, and it doesn’t disappoint in its bleakness. Skip it if you require entertainment in your entertainment, but watch it if you want to see a piece of SF history—even though England has yet to be nuked, it won an Oscar, for Best Documentary.