"The most prescient, innovative, and accomplished of overlooked English-language movie masters." —Amy Taubin
"The most important historical filmmaker most historians have never heard of... the most important historical filmmaker of the twentieth century." —David Armitage, Harvard University
Peter Watkins was born in Surrey, England in 1935. After education at Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, he became an amateur documentary filmmaker, gaining some notoriety for shorts like The Diary of an Unknown Soldier
(1959) and The Forgotten Faces
(1961). In these films, Watkins initiated a challenge towards conventional cinematic norms that he has yet to relinquish.
He was eventually hired by the BBC and with Culloden (1964) he established an innovative style combining drama played out by non-actors with newsreel techniques. Through bold montage, revealing close-ups, and hand-held camera movements, Watkins deconstructed both the historical myth surrounding the battle of Culloden and the cinematic conventions of traditional costume drama.
Watkins employed the same techniques in his second docudrama for the BBC, The War Game (1966). Here, the effects of a nuclear strike on Britain are investigated in what Watkins has often referred to as the "You Are There" style. Realistic depictions of nuclear havoc are mixed with interviews with actors impersonating "survivors" and establishment figures whose rationalization look increasingly uncomfortable as the horror unfolds.