Close Up

9 September 2018: The War Game


The Diary of an Unknown Soldier
Peter Watkins
1959 | 17 min | B/W | Digital

The diary of a soldier at the front, during the First World War, describing his brothers in arms. He watches many of them losing their lives to take a few yards of muddy ground from the enemy, and ultimately he becomes one of the glorified by the achievement.

The Forgotten Faces
Peter Watkins
1961 | 19 min | B/W | Digital

A gripping, expertly crafted newsreel style account of the 1956 peoples' uprising in Hungary directed by celebrated innovator of the docudrama form, Peter Watkins. A low-budget, amateur production, The Forgotten Faces convincingly and meticulously reconstructs the events from Budapest on nothing more than the backstreets of Canterbury.

The War Game
Peter Watkins
1966 | 47 min | B/W | Digital

“In this highly controversial dramatisation of the after effects of a nuclear attack on England, Watkins claims to have used "mathematical logic" to estimate the likely experience – both logistic and personal – of nuclear war, basing his visualization on the British government’s contingency plans and scientific research into the effects of radiation on the human body. The BBC considered the film to be excessively graphic and disturbing and refused to air it. Only reluctantly, after Watkins resigned from the BBC in protest, did the network agree to a theatrical release, although the broadcasting ban remained in place for twenty years. In an odd testament to its striking realism, the film went on to win the Academy Award for best documentary. Filmed in what would become the director’s trademark "semidocumentary" style, The War Game interrogates the clash between "subjective" and "objective" forms and refuses to allow the viewer a safe distance from the issues it presents.” – Harvard Film Archive

Part of our season on Peter Watkins