Culloden/The War Game (1964/1965) (Blu-ray films review).

War dominates this disc containing the films ‘Culloden’ and ‘The War Game’ from the BFI. Both movies are documentary/drama presentation of conflicts that took place which changed our lives forever.


The first, ‘Culloden’, being the last battle fought on British soil, that between the Stuarts and the Hanoverians at Culloden near Inverness, in the year 1746. This was a Peter Watkins direction which broke into new areas of TV presentation for the BBC. Made in 1964, I can remember watching it as a boy. In interviews with the protagonists and also battle scenes, it showed the final destruction of the Jacobite army and the consequent slaughter of anyone else left alive. As a MacDonald, it was a reminder of what my own clan went through during these eventful years. Bonnie Prince Charlie comes through as an incompetent, devoid of reality and hopelessly inept. It must be stressed that this wasn’t a battle between Scotland and England, it was a conflict between the British Government and a rebellious force trying to regain the crown for the Stuart dynasty. In fact, more Scottish people fought on the Government side than the Jacobites.

Outnumbered, the Jacobites tried in vain to break through the British troops but failed miserably, mainly because of ineptitude by Charlie. Only once did they reach the redcoats waiting in ranks which stood firm against that advance. The rest is history. Okay, this isn’t Science Fiction. However, it’s a must see presentation.

The other film, ‘The War Game’, was banned at the time and again by Peter Watkins and made in 1965 at the peak of the Cold War. It was so gruesome that it wasn’t shown for at least 20 years. Both, of course, are in black and white. It tells the story of the consequences of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union on Britain and it’s not a pleasant story. The attempts to avoid destruction are hopelessly inadequate and millions of people die in the attack and probably more later as a result of radiation. Britain becomes completely and utterly ruined.

Nuclear war was a talked about subject in those days and most people were in fear of it happening. It was a dark cloud which hung over the population at that time. Younger people will not be aware of this fact. Basically, nuclear war is no joke. Everyone becomes affected. Government information is also a joke, giving measures of protection such as sheltering under the table which, of course, is a useless exercise in the event of a 10 megaton bomb descending from above. Nothing survives such an attack. In fact, you would have been better off being eradicated in the first few seconds rather than endure the agonies of subsequent survival. It was a hopeless situation and it is effectively portrayed in this film.

The disc comes with interesting extras, those being a commentary on ‘Culloden’ by expert Dr. John Cook, a Patrick Murphy commentary on ‘The War Game’ and an interview with Mike Bradsell made last year. There is also a booklet.

The original films were made in the old 405 line television which was, at the best of times, a bit hazy. Using digital techniques, this has been cleaned up to give something more presentable for the viewer. A good job has been made! It’s amazing what 50 years of technology has done. Again, this isn’t Science Fiction, but it will no doubt be of interest to readers of this website.

I wouldn’t say that the films are pleasurable to watch because they portray the grim reality of conflict. The first shows a more localised contact but the second involves everyone. Rather than sending an army abroad, the entire civilian population become directly affected. This is definitely one to watch and it is highly recommended.

Rod MacDonald

April 2016

(region b/2: pub: British Film Institute. 1 dual format Blu-ray/DVD black and white films (69m/46m) with extras. Price: £19.99 (UK). cat. no. BFIB1246)

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