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Peter Watkins makes The War Game. The Beeb are told by Powers Unnamed to bin it. The Beeb bin it. Watkins, never a temperate man at the best of times, does his nut. James Heyman turns up with a Johnny Speight script about the oppressive nature of yoof culture for Watkins to direct. Watkins, no teenybopper himself, watches the same Paul Anka biopic for hours on end as homework. Paul Jones is cast as hapless singer Steven Shorter, taking a bizarre prison cell stage act from Birmingham to the international stage in front of hordes of screaming, beehived girls. A fascistic Con-Lab pact butter him up and get him to get the yoof to do their bidding. A conclave of bishops does likewise. As do, er, the apple farmers. Jean Shrimpton turns up to paint a cod-Francis Bacon portrait of Jones. Jones shags her. Thus emboldened, they set out to Smash the System. Watkins wraps it all up in his brilliantly observed but slightly too on-the-nose pseudo documentary style. ‘I fink the director’s a bleedin’ nutter!’ The Rank Organisation, still under the staunch Methodist hand of J Arthur, kick the film out of their cinemas for its church-baiting undertones. Watkins gets madder still, and naffs off to Sweden.



  1. Jon Poulton

    May 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Reverberates with lessons and parallels in the present day as most attempts like this do. The Olympics, the coalition government, youth culture and societies fear of it, celebrity and its cost, capitalism and the big society are just a few areas which jump out of the screen on a first viewing. Yes, sometimes heavy handed with leaden performances. I wonder how many times Pete Townsend watched this?

  2. Droogie

    April 9, 2021 at 1:44 pm

    A unique film. The pace drags in parts, but it’s beautifully shot with a great soundtrack. ( Patti Smith later covered the theme song.) Some scenes still pack a wallop. The nationalist rally in the football stadium with a pop band on stage giving fascist salutes to the crowd and playing a rock version of Jerusalem doesn’t seem so unbelievable now in these post-Brexit times. Paul Jones is also very good. (Interestingly, he was a stauch atheist around this time. There’s a TV clip of him somehwere having a debate with Cliff Richard where he attacks Cliff’s christianity. As it was, Paul converted to being a Born_again years later.)

  3. Richardpd

    April 10, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    This yet another film to add to my “watch some day” list.

    I’ve got a reasonable soft spot for Paul Jones (Manfred Mann, Beat The Teacher & Uncle Jack earn kudos!) but from the stills he looks quite gormless in this, which Jean Shrimpton’s painting makes exaggerates.

  4. Tom Ronson

    October 23, 2022 at 10:05 pm

    A really good, if incredibly fucking depressing, film. Paul Jones is surprisingly good too.

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