The War Game (1965): "too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting”

Wanabee2w says: "The War Game is a fictional, worst-case-scenario docu-drama about nuclear war and its aftermath in and around a typical English city."


The War Game is a 1965 television documentary-style drama depicting the effects of nuclear war on Britain. Written, directed, and produced by Peter Watkinsfor the BBC’s The Wednesday Playanthology series, it caused dismay within the BBC and in government and was withdrawn from television transmission on 6 August 1965 (the twentieth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing). The Corporation said that “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting”. However, it had some distribution in cinemas and won theAcademy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1966. But it remained unshown in full on British television until 1985.

The War Game


  1. Peter Watkins is a pretty interesting director, with a good track record of telling unpalatable truths – thus ensuring that his work doesn’t get wide distribution.

    “Punishment Park”, his vision of a dystopian ’60s America where hippies are made the subject of a kind of proto ‘Hunger Games’, is worth watching. So too is the fascinating – but extremely long – “La Commune (Paris 1871)”, which retells the history of the Paris Commune using amateur actors.

  2. Watch “Threads”. It came out around the same time as the Day After, and messed me up. Makes Day After look like Teletubbies. 

    1. Threads is a great (albeit depressing) movie…another good English nuclear holocaust movie in the same vain is the animated movie, “As the Wind Blows.”: 

      Highly recommended for fans of the genre. 

    2. I remember both of those.  We watched them in the barracks in West Berlin and they made me even more anxious. ;)  Hell, one time on Teufelsberg got momentarily blinded by a flash and thought my ticket had just been punched.  Glad those days are over, or a least the worrying about MAD.

  3. If you have a strong stomach, Threads is another British film with a similar theme which is worth seeing.

  4. I love this film.  I think I’ve found all the nuclear war films and tv shows that are on YouTube.  I was born on the most dangerous night of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  I can’t help it.

  5. I think certain MPs didn’t like it because they were of the opinion that British people would not behave like that (looting, murder etc) after a nuclear war, whereas other “lesser” peoples would.

  6. Awesome. Imo the best “nuclear war” film ever made. And yes, I’ve seen Threads, multiple times. Peter Watkins’ raw, uncompromising direction, hatchet-job editing (so appropriate for the theme) and immaculate attention to the reality of a nuclear attack (the physics all add up, for starters) imo give it a definite edge over Threads.
    Threads is like a bucket of pig’s entrails being poured over your head, slowly.
    The War Game is an unrelenting series of short, sharp stabs with a very dirty knife.
    They both have something worthwhile to say about nuclear war but I do prefer The War Game. Simply, it’s better made as a movie.

  7. Threads is given a further bleakness when you learn of the fate of child star Victoria O’Keefe who played Jane. Killed in a car accident aged 21.  A talent lost.

  8. May I point out that in 2009 there were still 23.574 active warheads ready to go off anytime?

    Today, of course, there are more AND international politics is filmsier than then.

    I didn’t like growing up in fear of a possible sudden nuclear attack – but I like even worse living in a time when most people just don’t understand that the risk is still with us.

    1. At least its not 20 tons of high explosive to every man woman and child on the planet anymore (44.16) – the population has more than doubled since then.

  9. The film about nuclear war that consistently makes lose my composure is ‘When the Wind Blows’. Maybe because it’s animated, it’s so easy to identify with the sweet, disarmingly naive old couple. It’s so simple yet terribly poignant, I’m gutted every time I watch it.

  10. I’m going to watch this all tomorrow, but I have got to add that their scenario is pretty implausible. It supposes that there is a monolithic Communist bloc. Chinese troops invading South Vietnam alongside the NVA? The NVA would be busting up the Chinese and all the dudes in the south would be rushing up north to help out.

    1. Implausible is a synonym for a lack of imagination.

      Politicians and the Military are human, with all the flaws that entails – you only have to look at the idiocy they get up to on a day to day basis to see that they shouldn’t be given cutlery, let alone nukes.

    2. It’s a valid worst case scenario. If push would have come to shove, I don’t see why it would have been impossible for the socialist states to put their differences aside and form an alliance.

  11. “War Games” is one of the two Saddest Movies I’ve Ever Seen. The other is also a nuclear attack movie, “Testament,” from 1983, starring Jane Alexander.

  12. Tagging on to the “Threads” post, the “Protect And Survive” shorts which feature prominently in that film are available on Youtube. Chilling to watch.

    There’s also this little documentary from the early 1980s, about the effects of Nuclear War:

  13. It’s an interesting point that these anti-atom bomb movies generally came out just as the war trend was fading. Watkins release  War Game just as the Test-Ban treaty was taking hold, with the related reduction in tensions. Testament was released in 1983, during the last anti-nuke wave when we were all afraid of nuclear winter. I remember at that period other manifestations, like the ridiculous “55 Red Balloons” phase, and people suggesting that East Germany should break from the Warsaw pact (fat chance) and West German from NATO and they could run their own zones without contributing to war. Yet even then it was beginning to dawn on everybody that the Soviet Union was an irremmediable mess and that they couldn’t hit Cleveland on a sunny day. A few years later the East Bloc fell apart like a cheap suitcase, and the fear of nuclear war unraveled with it.

    1. I have come to believe that their economy and their civil society (or rather, lack thereof) was a mess despite and because their massive military functioned quite well.

      1. Functioned quite well? Even without an antiwar movement they couldn’t defeat the Afghans, and there was the famous incident when German teenager Mathias Rust flew a Cessna through the impenetrable Soviet air defense system and landed in Red Square. When push came to topple, they couldn’t even trust their own troops enough to stop Yeltsin’s march on the parliment.

        1. People were afraid that the Soviets would invade us.  Actually come over here and take us over.  They couldn’t even run the most basic infrastructures, but they were somehow going to ship 20,000,000 well-armed soldiers here to take over ours.  It’s amazing that anybody ever believed it.

  14. “Threads” remains one of my top-10 favourite films of all time. It amuses me no end that a group of my uni friends who were into all their torture-porn horror nonsense refused to watch Threads with me when I borrowed it from the library, on the specific grounds that it previously gave every single one of them nightmares.

    If “The War Game” is even better, then I must see it.

  15. The War Game is a chilling and horrifying film, indeed. Probably more effective now than it was when it was made. We’ve come to expect sensibilities and limitations in older films, boundaries which this film rolls right over in its unflinching look at nuclear war. 

    What make it most effective is the dry, journalistic approach that is certainly reminiscent of WW2 newsreels. No shaky camera work or faux-amateur production is needed to sell the reality of the story.

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