War Book (2014)
Director: Tom Harper Writer: Jack Thorne
Cast: Sophie Okonedo, Ben Chaplin, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Shaun Evans, Kerry Fox, Adeel Akhtar, Phoebe Fox, Antony Sher, Nicholas Burns
Wide in scope and intellect, Tom Harper’s WAR BOOK is a chilling chamber piece based on a ‘game’ that took place regularly during the sixties and seventies in the political backrooms of Whitehall and is set here in contempo London. Key political staff assemble each day and are given a ‘scenario’ such as the aftermath of an international nuclear attack. As ministers, they are then tasked with reporting their individual strategies to cope with the ensuing meltdown, in a roundtable discussion.
Sharply performed by a glittering ensemble cast of British acting talent including: Sophie Okonedo, Ben Chaplin, Antony Sher and Kerry Fox, WAR BOOK bristles with political intrigue and in-fighting from the arcane to the trivial: a coruscating ‘corridors of power’ drama, it ducks and dives through the personal feelings, sexual predilections, and intellectual standpoints of some of ‘finest minds’ in politics, who make decisions on our behalf, but who are not all elected. Knives are drawn on the political front, and dirty washing is aired shamelessly behind an agenda of ethical and political stance-taking. Particularly good here is Ben Chaplin, an actor with ‘matinee idol’ looks who has been working away effectively for several decades in a variety of roles in both indie film (Dorian Gray) and TV (Game On). Here he shines as a suave and narcissistic sexual predator, Gary, to Phoebe Fox’s dilligent and seductive secretary who is tasked with taking the minutes. Antony Sher is integrity personified, in a ‘less is more’ role of senior advisor, elderly statesmen and contemplative intellect. Kerry Fox plays the soignée and experienced Maria – ‘you can’t put an old head on young shoulders’ type who fashions herself as a more glamorous and more sensual version of ‘the Widdy’ (Ann Widdecombe), and is in recovery from breast cancer. Token ‘Ethnic minorities’ are repped by a brilliantly measured Adheel Akhtar at Mohinder (Mo) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the fresh-faced but highly capable Austin. Shaun Evans is the subversive and strung-out Tom, who goes against the grain and has to be cautioned by Philippa for his strident views and outbursts. And last, but not least, is Sophie Okonedo as Philippa, the dispassionate and masterful ‘Chair’, who turns in a performance that is both subtly nuanced and striking.
Anyone with a keen interest in the workings of politics and ‘the powers that be’ will find this quietly gripping and restrained drama an immersive and entertaining experience. MT
PREMIERED AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS