Culloden (1964) & The War Game (1965) | Experience the revolutionary cinema of Peter Watkins in HD
From the BFI comes the first-time Blu-ray release of Peter Watkins’ controversial BBC films, Culloden (1964) and The War Game (1965).
A breakthrough when it was first broadcast in 1964, the BBC TV documentary film, Culloden, is an anachronistic recounting of the brutal 1746 battle which marked the final defeat of Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie) in his campaign to depose the Protestant King George II; and led to the systematic destruction of the feudal Highland Clan system.
Using shaky camera shots and tight close-ups of its bloody, bruised and shell-shocked combatants (made up of local men and boys from Inverness), director Watkins brought an immediacy to the film’s historical context which gave viewers the impression they were witnessing actual frontline news coverage. Adding to his experimental bag of tricks, Watkins placed an historian in his battlefield, whose comments and observations served to highlight how our reading of history is often skewed and biased.
50 years after its release, Culloden continues to make for tough and engaging viewing, and as a radical critique on the emerging British capitalist era it still manages to bite. And as for its narrator’s deadpan commentary, well I couldn’t help but think of Nick Broomfield and his particular style of delivery. Could Culloden have been an inspiration?
Watkins took his political/visionary techniques to shocking new heights in 1965’s The War Game. Blending fact and fiction about a nuclear attack on Kent, the anarchic director made it look all too terrifying real, which certainly hit a raw nerve with the BBC’s top brass who judged it to ‘too horrifying’ to be broadcast. But it was their involving the Home Office that ensured the inevitability of it being banned and led to Watkins tendering his resignation in protest. The whole nasty furore, which is deserving of a docu-drama itself, is explained in great depth in the extras and booklet that accompany the new BFI blu-ray release.
To add insult to injury, Watkins never even got to accept the 1967 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, which was awarded to The War Game after the BBC relented and gave it a limited cinema release. In 1968, Watkins quit the UK and turned to cinema, where he ended up making acclaimed films like 1971’s Punishment Park (reviewed here), Edvard Munch (1973) and La Commune (2000). Watkins has never returned to TV, but his two BBC documentaries remain as politically potent testaments to his talents.
And as for viewing The War Game today, well given the threat of global terrorism and our insecurities over a well-stocked North Korea it’s still an apocalyptic scenario in the making. Let’s just hope the UK Government’s civil defence plans aren’t as hopelessly inadequate as portrayed in Watkins’ seminal documentary.
Culloden and The War Game have been newly re-mastered to High Definition and will be presented together in a Dual Format Edition, with the following special features.
• Newly re-mastered and presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition.
• Michael Bradsell Interview (2015, 21 mins): the film editor talks about working with Peter Watkins at the BBC.
• John Cook audio commentary on Culloden (2002).
• Culloden on Location (Donald Fairservice, 1964, 8 mins): colour footage of the cast and crew during the filming of Culloden, with a 2002 commentary by John Cook.
• Patrick Murphy audio commentary on The War Game (2002).
• The War Game: The Controversy (2002, 19 mins): Patrick Murphy charts the production history, banning and eventual distribution of the film.
• The War Game book: on-screen gallery of the 1967 tie-in book.
• Illustrated booklet.
Posted on March 28, 2016, in British Film, Must-See, World Cinema and tagged 18th century British history, 1960s docu-drama, Battle of Culloden, BBC, BFI, Culloden, Nuclear Holocaust, Peter Watkins, The War Game. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.