Monday, 30 September 2013

Aint War Hell? - The War Game (BBC 1965)

"The War Game" is a 1965 docu-drama-film about the effects of a global nuclear war, set in contemporary times (ie, the late '60s).

Originally planned to be shown as part of the BBCs "The Wednesday Play" series (which ran in a weekly prime time slot from 1964 until 1970) the play/film was a groundbreaking and exceptionally honest portrayal of the state of affairs in Britain at the time and showed the total and complete lack of understanding about just what would happen should world war 3 actually occur.
As such, when viewed by the BBC governors and government officials prior to its broadcast, the program was immediately pulled from the broadcast schedules, and wasnt shown in full on television until 1985.
This was due to the fact that the brutally honest style of filming, using actual quotes and recreations of government procedures, as well as interviews with real people in the street regarding the various topics related to nuclear war would have heavilly damaged the carefully crafted government image that nuclear war wasnt really all that different from the use of conventional bombs, and that the government could be trusted to get things up and running again following a nuclear exchange.

Plot wise, the film doesnt particularly follow any particular person, or group of people, but instead recreates a snapshot of life in and around a typical english town in Kent.
The build up to "the war" happens completely off camera, and centres around a Chinese invasion of  south Vietnam (which incidentally was a very real portent of things to come in the Vietnam war which was kicking off at the time this film was made) in response ot this, the NATO powers begin mobilising against China, but, to show solidarity with their communist friends, the USSR mobilises its forces in east Germany, eventually invading west Berlin.
In response to this, the US president (Ed Bishop) issues an ultimatum to the USSR, leave West Germany or else!.
Open warfare soon breaks out between the NATO and warsaw pact countries in Germany, and talk soon comes round to the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

In Britain, which the narrator points out has more targets for nuclear missiles than the entire continental United States due to its high concentrations of military staging areas, missile launching facilities and industrial and manufacturing facilities, the populations of large cities are graded with a rating of 1 to 5, and then evacuated to towns in the country or in remote areas like Wales or the Lake district.
The vast majority of these evacuees are young women and children, any men over the age of 18 are to remain behind in the cities, either to continue working or to fight should there be an invasion.

Preparations for war are shown, firstly in the form of civil defence volunteers going door to door handing out booklets , which it is remarked have been available for some time, but did not sell well due to their asking price of 9d, so no one has really read their content, much less have had time to build fallout shelters as described in the book.
Profiteering soon becomes rife, with people selling sandbags, wood and sand for ridiculous prices, and shop owners begin selling tinned food and supplies for vastly inflated markups, all the while, evacuees are forced to live with complete strangers under threat of imprisonment under the emergency powers act.

Interviews with people in the street show the level of ignorance the general public had about a nuclear war, with one woman referring to Strontium-90 as "some sort of gunpowder" and people not knowing what effects radioactive fallout would have on them other than it being "some sort of dust that makes you ill if you swallow it".
The narrator points out at this point that the amount of warning time available for an ICBM strike could be as little as 30 seconds, depending where the missiles were launched from, and at what time of day the launch occurs, and that the standard "3 minute warning" benchmark was more optimistic than realistic.

Eventually, the war begins proper, after the US president orders a pre-emptive tactical nuclear strike against Russian forces who are still holding West Berlin, pretty soon, the ICBMs start flying.
The village , although not a target, is hit by a stray missile which was headed for Gatwick airport but failed en route and exploded prematurely, this is shown on screen as a massive white flash in the sky, which immediately vapourises anyone caught out in the open, blinds those who were outside of the blast radius by melting their eyeballs due to the intense light, then the ensuing firestorm and blast wave set fire to anything flammable within its maximum blast radius, and destroy or severely damage any building not strong enough to withstand it.

The following day, radioactive fallout begins slowly killing off those who haven't found shelter, which is just about everyone.
The local authorities struggle to cope with the sudden influx of wounded and dying, and soon rioting and looting becomes commonplace, which increasingly draconian measures fail to curb (the narrator points out that following the firebombing of Dresden during World War 2, it was found that respectable middle class citizens had no qualms whatsoever about resorting to violent looting and theft, while those of the lower classes, from whom this type of behaviour would normally be expected, were less likely to exhibit this behaviour)
Within a month, all civil order has broken down, with policemen and civil defence volunteers being openly beaten, shot and murdered in the streets by looters and thieves, civil food banks find themselves over run and civilisation as it was known vanishes into history as the instinct for survival takes precedence over everything else.

Interviews with people in the street after the war show that following the harrowing events, people enter a state of incurable depression, simply interested in nothing more than finding food, one man states that he was offered £1 (a lot of money for the average person in 1965) for a loaf of bread, but refused it as "you cant eat a pound note".

The film ends by showing a home for war orphans in Dover, where scarred, malnourished and deformed children are brought up by a local priest. None of the children show any interest in life when asked about what their hopes are for the future.

Probably the most disturbing thing about this film is the quotes used which were supplied by various sources at the time.
One actor, dressed as an Anglican priest, reads a statement by another priest who he quotes as saying that he was in favour of there being a nuclear war, simply because God protects the just and would help the righteous smite their enemies.
Another quote, this time from a government official at the time stated that they didn't believe that a global nuclear war would be any worse than the blitz, and that Britain would easily be able to cope with any aftereffects of a war and would be back on its fee tin no time etc etc.

The film is a very well made and very though provoking piece of film, and is highly recommended.
If you wish to view this film, you can do so by clicking HERE

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