Review By Paul Mount, 4 out of 5
Another gem from the dusty archives of British television, this is one of the BFI’s most interesting releases yet. Back in the days when the BBC were capable of doing more than just churning out gardening programmes and shows about people moving house, THE WAR GAME became one of the most controversial productions of its time, so controversial, in fact, that it was promptly deemed far too frightening for viewing and buried in the vaults of the BBC for years until it was finally screened on BBC2 in a late-night slot a few years ago (when I was on holiday and missed it, dammit!)
If you’ve seen the BBC’s terrifying THREADS from the mid
1980s, THE WAR GAME may seen a bit familiar. The scenario ?the devastating effects of a thermonuclear attack on contemporary England ?is the same but the style is markedly different. Both purport to be documentaries but whereas THREADS drifts into post-Apocalypse survivors-eatings-rats-and-decending-into-barbarism clich? THE WAR GAME, shorter and punchier ?and in much more atmospheric black-and-white ?is determinedly in-your-face, painting a bleak and dispiriting picture of the world post-Bomb. Only a fool would say that THE WAR GAME is entertaining; it’s cold, harrowing, brutally graphic considering it was made decades ago. But it’s lost none of its power over the years and its message is as potent now as it was back then ?maybe even moreso in the light of the turbulent times we live in. One of the film’s voice-overs (one of whom is that nice Michael Aspel, incidentally) concludes that an attack such as that depicted in the film is almost inevitable by the year 1980. Hmmmm?e seem to be a few years overdue on that one?
THE DISC: Not exactly a pristine remastered print, THE WAR GAME is full of flecks and watermarks. This just adds to its impact and really doesn’t matter. Extras include a commentary and a footage-backed mini-documentary about the conspiracy which kept the film hidden away for over twenty years. A vital purchase for TV historians.