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The War Game / Culloden

Distributed by Project X Distribution Limited, 223 Humberside Ave., Toronto, Ontario M6P 1K9, Canada; 416-604-2506
Produced by Peter Watkins
Directed by Peter Watkins
DVD, color, 274 min.
College - Adult
Film Studies, History, Media Studies

Reviewed by Oksana Dykyj, Head, Visual Media Resources, Concordia University, Montreal

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 10/29/2008

Peter Watkins’ double feature of films produced for the BBC has been assembled on one superb DVD which also includes pertinent extra audio commentaries by UK scholars for both films.

For Cullodin, Watkins used a style similar to what audiences became accustomed to seeing nightly on television when being shown the war in Vietnam. His goal in this approach was to bring a sense of familiarity to scenes depicting the 1746 battle. Soldiers are interviewed on-camera about how they feel and a journalistic voice-over commentary is heard. Watkins thus drew a parallel between the battle of Cullodin and the pacification of the Vietnam Highlands by the United States. He also used an all-amateur cast to further establish a documentary approach to this reconstruction of a historical battle. This was to become one of his few popular and accessible films.

On the other hand, The War Game was banned. The film’s subject matter, a thorough and careful investigation of the possibilities of surviving a nuclear attack in relation to the moral and ethical issues of the politics of nuclear weapon ownership, made this film politically “unscreenable.” His questioning of nuclear deterrence, where one side knows the other can strike back, was well supported by research, but censorship prevailed. The film did however go on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 1967 Awards. The BBC finally screened it in 1985, 20 years after it was deemed “too horrific for the medium of broadcasting.”

Watkins’ website provides ample information about his political stance and statements about his views of media and culture. The booklet provided with the DVD contains a detailed account of the controversy surrounding the making and later accessibility of The War Game. Additional information on Cullodin may be obtained by going to Watkins’ website. The 2003 individual BFI PAL region 2 editions of these two films contain two earlier films which should also have been included on this NTSC region 1 edition to show Watkins’ progression as a filmmaker.

The War Game and Cullodin are important films that need to get into the canon of film and media education. Their availability on DVD is a step in the right direction. Highly recommended