If there’s one aspect of the 80’s that I am glad hasn’t been revived it’s that horribly real nuclear war paranoia. However, if you do fancy taking a trip back to the time when the world’s superpowers could have wiped out most of humanity at the flick of a switch, then Threads is the film for you. This one-off BBC made-for-television film from 1984 was mentioned in last week’s How TV Ruined Your Life episode about the power of fear in the media, and it’s a brilliant example (in ways both good and bad).
Threads is set in the Northern English industrial city of Sheffield, and concerns itself with the impact of a nuclear bomb blast on the community, and the effect it has on the whole country in the years that follow. Having a micro-level setting makes Threads more effective, particularly in the scenes that show how a blast would be dealt with by local government, and how some of the seemingly smallest losses are the most painful. The gray-skied Yorkshire moors backdrop adds hugely to the medieval-regression scenario that plays out after the horrific first attack. From BBC4:
Director Mick Jackson shoots the piece as if filming an actual disaster, using a documentary-maker’s dispassion that renders the grey, gruesome scenes unbearably compelling. The blend of personal tragedy and global catastrophe is deftly handled but it’s the attention to detail and stunning breadth of the work which most impresses.
Writer Barry Hines, best known for Kes, fashioned his script on evidence supplied by bodies as varied as the British Medical Association and the Home Office, with literally dozens of experts from varying fields - including Carl Sagan - consulted to guarantee authenticity. The cold exploration of such horrific events is frightening, from the awful build-up to war and the immediate impact of the bomb, to the viler, long-term consequences of a poisoned world.
I hadn’t seen it before yesterday, and I should mention that it’s not a viewing experience to be undertaken lightly. But it IS worth watching. I am just glad I never saw this film at the time, being only a child in the Eighties, as it is truly one of the most bleak (if brilliant) viewing experiences. Plenty of YouTube comments attest to the film’s powers to inspire nightmares in children, even in adults. I am guessing that it also led to a surge in the number of people joining CND.
Besides, you know you’ve hit a certain apex of harrowing brilliance when Portishead name a song after you.
Thanks to Chris P. Daniels for the link.