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Star and Shadow Cinema Presents

The War Game + short films

Peter Watkins - An English Radical

Dir: Peter Watkins, UK, 1965, 46 mins plus short films, BluRay

Thu 24 October 2019 // 19:30 / Cinema

Tickets: £7/5

Banned for 20 years in the UK, yet winner of an Academy Award, Watkins' remarkable TV documentary still possesses the power to engage and shock. The film blends carefully researched fact and fiction to show the aftermath of a limited nuclear attack on Kent.

‘The film is the most sickening in the world today and one the public should never see.’ (Manchester Evening News)

Watkins’ next production was the War Game, one of the most controversial films ever made by the BBC. Once again filmed in documentary style, the film depicts the after-effects of a nuclear strike on Kent, using statistics extrapolated from the Japanese bombs, and quotes from high-ranking officials, actually used as dialogue. Needless to say this did not please the Labour government of the day and the film was banned by the BBC, who broke their own charter of independence by organising a secret screening for Cabinet members. The film was subsequently banned in Britain, though it would receive the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1967. It was finally screened on TV in 1985. The radical treatment, not often used in British cinema gives the already powerful material an even greater potency


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.