Review: The Day The Earth Caught Fire

day_the_earth_caught_fire_bdBFI DVD/Blu-ray, out now

Simultaneous nuclear bomb explosions cause a major change to the Earth’s orbit – can mankind be saved?

If it wasn’t for the first few minutes of this that show the unbearable heat that Britain is suffering as a result of the “accident”, you’d be pardoned initially for believing that the movie is a much more domestic drama about the lives and careers of British newspapermen. Certainly for some it will be a nostalgia-fest for the way that printing used to be in the UK – we follow all the way up and down the chain as the decision is made to print a “slip” (extra) edition – and the influence of Daily Express editor Arthur Christiansen is clear. However, the science fiction elements soon start to come to the fore, as Edward Judd’s Peter Stenning learns the truth about the consequences of the bomb explosion and the government steps in…

As with so many of these movies, you have to put aside considerations of the reality of the science, and enjoy director Val Guest’s depiction of society faced with extinction. Inevitably, there’s a lot of stock footage (some from Guest’s own The Quatermass Xperiment!) as well as Les Bowie’s new effects but the script is tight and all too plausible. The characters are well-drawn: Leo McKern and Judd make good sparring partners, as do Judd and Janet Munro, and the bleakness of the central theme is matched by the realism of their lives. It’s an “adult” drama in that respect: it may only have a PG rating now, but (as the BFI’s excellent restoration shows) it was an “X” (no under 16s) at the time of release. (The disc is a 12 because of some of the extra footage.) And its ending… well, it’s certainly not the “and they all lived happily ever after” feelgood buzz that you might hope for.

Day-The-Earth-Caught-Fire-poster-1-400x302There are copious extras, including a commentary by Guest from 2001, as well as a separate interview with the director, both of which are well worth perusing. There’s an archive interview with Leo McKern, and a new thirty-or-so minute documentary on the making of the film – some of which inevitably overlaps with the essays in the booklet, but which all taken together, gives a terrific insight into its creation. There are even some contemporary items on the H-bomb which help to set the scene.

My first exposure to this movie was a short clip in a Film 78 overview of SF films, and it’s one that I wish I’d followed up a lot sooner!

Verdict: A classic piece of British SF movie-making given proper treatment. 8/10

Paul Simpson

Click here to order The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Blu-ray) from



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