Professor John Willingdon is England’s chief scientist at its atomic research center. Now he has stolen a bomb, which he will detonate in a week’s time, obliterating the seat of Government, unless the prime minister officially ends British manufacture of all such weaponry. Scotland Yard, convinced he is insane, works to find and apprehend Willingdon.
Adapting Paul Dehn and James Bernard’s Oscar-winning story, writer-directors John and Roy Boulting pursue two themes. One refers to the peacetime dangers of such research as Willingdon is involved in. The Boulting brothers thus take a stand against the West’s Cold War policy of courting universal destruction as a means of enforcing “peace” through terror. The other theme, more pressing and powerful, refers to Willingdon’s “individual conscience” and the political misuse of his life’s work. We see the folly of the law’s position; Willingdon, as Barry Jones beautifully and humanely plays him, is in no way out of his mind. He is thoughtful and measured, but sees no other way of expressing an unconventional opinion for the cause of world peace. “Perhaps some of my fellow scientists,” he reasons, “will understand and take courage from my example.” The Boultings were reacting to assaults on free speech that they saw across the Atlantic in Washington. The police are incapable of acting responsibly in a political arena; the murder of Willingdon is unnecessary and, whether or not intended to do so, will silence through intimidation many more voices than his.
The entire film is Hitchcockian (The Lodger, 1926, seems an especial influence) and, anticipating Peter Watkins, the Boultings-edited evacuation of London, with its heightened documentary realism, is a stark and stunning passage. Who can forget the confused pets, on doorsteps, that people have been ordered to leave behind?
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