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The War Game

Peter Watkins
UK 1965 / 48’

Peter Watkins’ unsettling film, made for British television in 1965, shows an alternative history of the Cold War, in which the diehard stances of both East and West come to a head and the Soviet Union launches warheads at Great Britain. Perfectly imitating newsreel style, The War Game is a masterful illusion. It won the Oscar for best documentary. Much of the film’s strength lies in the contrast between images of the horrifying aftermath of nuclear war and the complacent, patronizing attitudes of politicians. Although it is pure fiction, this depiction of people dealing with the fallout – in all the senses of the word – of an atomic attack is nevertheless one of the more emotionally disturbing works screening at this year’s festival.


Academy Awards 1967 – Oscar for Best Documentary Feature; BAFTA Awards 1967 – Best Short Film; Venice IFF 1966 – Special Prize

Peter Watkins

Peter Watkins began his film career at the close of the 1950s. By the mid-1960s, he was directing features for BBC television, including quasi-documentary works, such as The War Game. Although much of his later work was in real documentaries, he also directed well-received feature films, including Privilege (1967) and Punishment Park (1971). In 1987, Watkins directed the monumental 14-hour epic documentary Resan, once again taking up the theme of the global arms race.

Selected filmography

1959 The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (short)

1965 Zabawa w wojnę / The War Game

1967 Przywilej / Privilege

1971 Punishment Park

1987 Resan (doc.)

1994 Fritänkaren (video)

2000 La commune (Paris, 1871)

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Cast & Crew

director Peter Watkins
screenplay Peter Watkins
cinematography Peter Bartlett, Peter Suschitzky
editing Michael Bradsell
sound Lou Hanks, Stanley Morcom, Derek Williams
cast Michael Aspel, Peter Graham
producer Peter Watkins
production BBC
sales BBC
language English
colouration b&w