War Book
dir Tom Harper
scr Jack Thorne
prd Lauren Dark, Tom Harper
with Sophie Okonedo, Ben Chaplin, Kerry Fox, Shaun Evans, Antony Sher, Nicholas Burns, Phoebe Fox, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Adeel Akhtar
release UK 7.Aug.15
14/UK 1h32
War Book
On the brink: Okonedo, Phoebe Fox and Evans

chaplin kerry fox stewart-jarrett
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
War Book Like a claustrophobic one-room stage production, this drama is based on actual role-play meetings that began in the 1960s to develop a book explaining how a nuclear war might unfold. The film is very talky, but it's a profound look at global political tension. And it chillingly explores how close we have brought ourselves to the edge of anarchy and oblivion.

Over three days in 2014 London, Philippa (Okonedo) chairs the war-game meeting in the role of home secretary, based on scenario starting with a nuclear strike by Pakistan in Mumbai. Playing prime minister, Gary (Chaplin) kicks into gear, asking everyone to vote on diplomacy, aid and possibly starting a quarantine to protect the UK from possible radiation illness. As the fictional turmoil spreads, health and agriculture problems emerge, as does the issue of how Britain will be perceived by other nations. Ultimately it comes down to whether the UK should join its allies and attack.

Strikingly well-written and cleverly shot and edited as three real-time meetings, the dialog snaps with biting humour, which helps hold the attention since we're basically watching nine brainy people sitting around a table arguing over a hypothetical situation. Yes, this movie requires viewers to hang on every word in order to follow the evolving conversation. Thankfully, the enormous political issues are remarkably lucid, and the discussions get seriously heated over every angle of the escalating scenario.

In between the meetings, the characters have other kinds of interaction and real-world issues to attend to, which allows the actors to add subtext to the debate. Okonedo brings an offhanded, relaxed authority as the meeting's chair, in sharp contrast to the privately educated hawks played with spiky intensity by Chaplin and Kerry Fox. Evans has the sympathetic role as a thoughtful guy who worries about the others' reactionary approach. Phoebe Fox and Stewart-Jarrett add pathos as wide-eyed assistants. And intriguingly, Burns plays the actual defence secretary role-playing here as foreign minister and treating the experience as a jolly lark.

There's an odd sideroad touching on the collision of power and sex, but most dialog wrestles with medical issues, refugee crises and possible repercussions involving America, Russia and China. It's riveting to watch the characters' layers of reaction as they enact drastic measures that decide who lives and who dies, all without emotion because they know it's fiction. But of course it also makes them (and us) ponder the end of humanity. Which is a staggering thought even in a role-playing exercise.

cert 15 themes, language, innuendo 4.Aug.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall