Threads is a 1984 British-Australian apocalyptic war drama television film jointly produced by the BBC, Nine Network and Western-World Television Inc. Written by Barry Hines and directed and produced by Mick Jackson, it is a dramatic account of nuclear war and its effects on the city of Sheffield in Northern England.
The film presents effects of a nuclear holocaust on the working class city of Sheffield, England and the eventual long-term effects of nuclear war on civilization.
The story focuses on two families as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union reach their boiling point. As the nuclear exchange between NATO and the Warsaw Pact begins, the film depicts the medical, economic, social and environmental consequences of nuclear war.
Why It Rocks
- The film is not only a drama, but also a warning about the dangers we face when it comes to nuclear weapons and war in general.
- The characters' normal and uninteresting lifestyle makes them much more relatable and realistic, thus further adding to the film's realism.
- Ruth Beckett and Jimmy Kemp are ordinary citizens going about with their daily lives ignoring the military situation in Iran until it becomes too noticeable. This is a perfect depiction of the every day British citizen during the Cold War.
- Depending on your POV, the film's low-budget television look (shot on a budget of £400,000) makes it all the more eerie and realistic.
- Brilliant performances of the cast, especially since these were mostly unknown actors at the time and therefore made the characters more relatable other than just A-list celebrities seen in The Day After.
- Director Mick Jackson initially considered casting actors from Granada Television's Coronation Street, but he later decided to take a neorealist approach and opted to cast relatively unknown actors in order to heighten the film's impact through the use of characters the audience could relate to.
- Unlike other films about nuclear war (The Day After for example), this film has no form of a happy ending or any kind of sugarcoating. It pulls no punches when it comes to representing the shocking and horrifying outcome of a nuclear war. This is grimly shown through the slow and unsettling breakdown of society:
- If a nuclear warhead airbursts over the North Sea, all electronics and communications across England and Northern Europe would be burnt out and destroyed.
- Two thirds of houses in Great Britain would be caught in the firestorm that follows the attack.
- Due to lack of electricity, drugs, water and supplies, the hospitals would have to perform painful surgeries and amputations without anesthetics. This is illustrated in one of the most gruesome scenes in the film shown at Sheffield Royal Infirmary.
- With food shortages, the Pound Sterling would loose all value as Britain's currency in favor of food, which is either given as a reward for work or withheld as punishment.
- Smoke and dust lifted into the atmosphere would block out the sun's heat and light, altering the Earth's climate and plunging the northern hemisphere into a dark and cold nuclear winter with a temperature drop as severe as 25°. This would hinder crop growth globally and put the survivors (as well as many other parts of the world) at risk.
- Even after sunlight returns months after the war, fuel would be diminished and crop growth would still remain poor.
- To add to that, damage to the ozone layer would result in increasing likelihood of cataracts and cancer.
- A year later, government and order would've fully collapsed.
- A decade after the exchange, Britain's population would decline to below Medieval levels due to radioactive fallout, starvation and disease. The society we would live in would continue to remain barbaric and almost primitive even with the usage of steam power and limited electricity. This is due to lack of education, leaving proper English a distant memory.
- Just when you were already recoiling in reaction to everything else the movie showed, it explains that radioactivity would cause problems for developing children even more than ten years after the war, completely dooming the next generation.
- The film's disturbing nature is important to it's warning about nuclear war, and it's still sort of relevant today.
- The lack of music sets the mood perfectly.
- The Protect and Survive instructions by the British government are shown to be utterly useless and were truthfully just a placebo effect to make sure nuclear disarmament activists didn't interfere with the powers-that-be. This point is also demonstrated in When the Wind Blows.
- The American-Soviet standoff in Iran is a perfect setup for a nuclear war event, making it more politically accurate than even the Chinese invasion of South Vietnam in The War Game.
- A morbid opening sequence depicting a spider spinning a web to symbolize how well-linked our society is and how easily it could fall apart (hence the film's title), coupled with some eerie narration by Paul Vaughan.
- Memorable and powerful quotes:
- "In an urban society, everything connects. Each person's needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric. But the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable"
- "This time they are playing with at best the destruction of life as we know it and at worst total annihilation. You cannot win a nuclear war! Now just suppose the Russians did win this war... What exactly would they be winning? What would they have conquered? Well, I'll tell you! All major centers of population and industry would have been destroyed. The soil would have been irradiated. Farmstock would be dead, diseased or dying. The Russians would have conquered a corpse of a country"
- The ending is shocking and terrifying: Ruth's daughter, having been impregnated offscreen, gives birth to a baby, only to scream in horror at the child being stillborn and unresponsive. This explains how nuclear war would indefinitely contribute to human extinction within a slow period of twenty-thirty years or so.
- The mystery surrounding Ruth's relationship with her daughter is one of the most unsettling parts of the film; we don't know why Jane didn't cry or show emotion when Ruth, her mother, died. Perhaps Jane witnessed too much death to care, or perhaps Ruth stopped caring the moment the missiles struck the country.
- The latter is made most likely because of a scene earlier in the fallout cellar when Ruth openly states that she doesn't care about the baby anymore and wishes to swap places with Jimmy.
- On the topic of Ruth's death from cataracts, the scene is a true tear-jerker, especially when we see that she still has Jimmy's bird book long after his death ten years prior.
- While it can be distracting, Paul Vaughan's narration is very insightful and memorable, coupled with the texts that appear on the screen from time to time.
- For a BBC television-film shot on a budget of £400,000, the effects used (from the stock footage in the nuclear attack scene to the light blockers to depict a nuclear winter) and the make-up are impressive.
- The iconic deputized traffic warden with a paper bag covering his burnt face in the looter prison scene.
- Similar to The Day After, the film had an effect on politics. Barry Hines and Mick Jackson received a letter of praise from Labour leader Neil Kinnock, stating "the dangers of complacency are much greater than any risks of knowledge."
- The film was aired without commercial breaks, leaving it's disturbing yet educational run uninterrupted.
- A lot of the film's ambiguous parts (e.g. Jimmy's disappearance from the film) heighten the morbid feel.
- The film is the first of it's kind to depict a nuclear winter, with it's scientifically arcuate depiction making it much more scary to sit through.
- Not for the easily frightened, sensitive, timid, disturbed or afraid.
Threads was not widely reviewed, but the critics who reviewed it gave generally positive reviews.
It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 100% based on 11 reviews (with an average score of 8.75/10). The critical consensus reads: "An urgent warning against nuclear conflict, Threads is a chilling hypothetical that achieves visceral horror with its matter-of-fact presentation of an apocalypse."
It has been called "a film which comes closest to representing the full horror of nuclear war and its aftermath, as well as the catastrophic impact that the event would have on human culture." Some people have also described it as "scariest movie ever made" and "the original BBC drama the shocked an entire generation." The night it premiered on BBC2 was also nicknamed "the night Britain didn't sleep."
It has been compared to the American ABC production The Day After from 1983 and the BBC's 1966 documentary by Peter Watkins, The War Game.
Both Little White Lies and The A.V. Club have emphasized the film's contemporary relevance, especially in light of political events such as Brexit. According to the former, the film paints a "nightmarish picture of a Britain woefully unprepared for what is coming, and reduced, when it does come, to isolation, collapse and medieval regression, with a failed health service, very little food being harvested, mass homelessness, and the pound and the penny losing all value."
- The film has developed a cult-following for it's disturbingly realistic portrayal of nuclear war and it's aftermath.
- It was presented by Ted Turner when it aired on Superstation TBS in the United States.
- Mick Jackson said he had it on good authority that it's US broadcast was watched by US President at the time Ronald Reagan, who was apparently left depressed by The Day After when it aired on ABC the previous year.
- It's HD DVD and Blu-Ray release was handled by Severin Films, whom also already released When the Wind Blows on Blu-Ray under their "Severin Kids" brand.
- In fact, When the Wind Blows was described in it's Blu-Ray release trailer as "Threads for kids."