by Mark Wilshin
Every year the British Government spend three days simulating a national response to the outbreak of nuclear war. Civil servants assume the role of their Cabinet ministers – and in Tom Harper’s War Book they’re loyally and ably served by Sophie Okonedo, Kerry Fox, Ben Chaplin, Antony Sher, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Shaun Evans. It’s a stellar cast for a fascinating chamber piece, as they do battle over the pros and cons of quarantine, pandemics, dwindling resources and nuclear defence. The fictional scenario collides with reality as the government officials deal with truckers rioting over fuel tax and personal issues, and it’s punctuated by two-man dialogues with moments of reflection and intimacy. Like reading a play rather than seeing it on stage, War Book is a reading – a simulation of nuclear war as it plays out, and one’s enjoyment depends largely on how willing you are to enter the fiction and come to grips with the issues on the table, no matter how cursorily examined. But with moments of sun-lit reflection and a respectful silence before committing to the decision to deploy nuclear warheads, War Book is a surprisingly effective and affecting as it marks the momentousness of the decision to ignite a war.
War Book is showing on Oct 13th & 18th at the 58th BFI London Film Festival