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The War Game

The War Game is a 1965 television film on nuclear war. Directed and produced by Peter Watkins for the BBC, 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 because "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 1967. It was widely viewed before its BBC debut on video and in art-house cinemas.

The film 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 - a documentary-style chronology of the main events; an intermittent set of vox pop contemporary interviews; and fictional interviews with key figures as the war unfolds - all twisted together throughout the film.

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.

Compared to more modern films such as The Day After (1983) or Threads (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.