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Star and Shadow Cinema Presents

The Gladiators

Peter Watkins - An English Radical

Dir: Peter Watkins, 1969, Sweden, 91 mins, DVD

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Wed 6 November // 19:30 / Cinema

Tickets: £7/5

In order to avoid World War 3, the major powers form an International Commission to organise a series of contests between soldiers from different countries. These contests, which can be fought to the death are called 'Peace Games'. They are broadcast worldwide with commercials and sponsors. When two players from opposing teams reach out to each other, the stability of the system is threatened

After the critical failure of Privilege, Watkins moved to Sweden and was offered the chance to make the Gladiators. Using his now familiar quasi-documentary technique, though shooting on non-portable 35mm equipment, the Gladiators is another savage satire critiquing what we now call reality TV and media in general. Rarely screened in the UK, the Gladiators(also known as the Peace Game) is both wickedly inventive and way ahead of its time.

Peter Watkins - An English Radical film season we present 5 of Peter Watkins' films, mixing his better known works such as The War Game and Punishment Park, with the rarely seen The Gladiators. The selection of films gives a flavour of Watkins unique style, and provides a powerful critique of mainstream media, and the Hollywood derived narrative style which he refers to as the 'monoform'.

His body of work is one of the most formally inventive of any British filmmaker, displaying a relentless questioning intelligence, and his predominant use of documentary techniques gives an urgency and immediacy to the material. Many of his films were poorly received on release, yet in this era of fake news and celebrity culture seem totally relevant.


Peter Watkins was born in 1935 in Surrey, and started his film making career at the BBC in the early 1960s. His first film was Culloden, made in what would become his trademark documentary style. Meant to echo the style of reportage from Vietnam, historical events are portrayed in an urgent contemporary style. His next film, The War Game turned to near future events, documenting the effects of a nuclear strike on Kent. Banned by the government of the day, it was the end of Watkins career at the BBC. He then made Privilege, his first narrative feature for Universal. The film was poorly received on release, but has grown in reputation since. After Privilege, Watkins moved abroad and has never returned to the UK. Moving back to his documentary style he made Punishment Park in the USA, and the Gladiators in Sweden. More ambitious works followed, a near 3 hour biopic of Edvard Munch, Resan, a 14 and a half hour work made across the world, addressing nuclear madness,and The Commune, a 6 hour recreation of the Paris Commune.

Thanks to Peter Watkins and the BFI for their help in organising this season.