Film Review – Threads (1984)

Picture shows: Ruth Beckett (KAREN MEAGHER) WARNING This image may only be used for publicity purposes in connection with the broadcast of the programme as licensed by BBC Worldwide Ltd & must carry the shown copyright legend. It may not be used for any commercial purpose without a licence from the BBC. © BBC 1984

Threads is perhaps the most distressing film I have ever watched, and certainly not Christmas Eve viewing (which was a mistake I made). It does not surprise me that there are rumours that it was unofficially banned from the BBC for years. The film is a BBC TV venture from 1984, depicting the effects of a nuclear holocaust following war between the US and the USSR. It is all presented in a docu-drama format, featuring stripped back production and a focus on the grainy, gory details of Mutually Assured Destruction. This new Blu-Ray edition adds clarity but does not detract from the bleak look that the original aimed for. This film terrified me in 2018, I cannot imagine how it made folks feel back in the shadow of the bomb.

Written by Barry Hines, best known as an author, and directed by Mick Jackson who had specialise in documentary film-making prior to Threads, the attention to detail is incredible. Hines’ story ostensibly follows two ordinary families in Sheffield, and the motley disaster organisation team tasked with rebuilding the city post-apocalypse. The opening is rather bland, merely a depiction of everyday life but slowly, hints of looming doom enter the frame. Radio excerpts and TV news reports blare in the background of the characters’ lives telling us of growing tension in Iran between the US and the USSR. A non-descript, green text often punches its way across the picture informing viewers of the incoming horror headed towards the oblivious denizens of Sheffield. When the bombs do start falling, the depiction of total panic and utter chaos is upsetting, and even worse is the authorities’ total inability to handle the devastation brought on by nuclear war.

Strangely enough, Threads’ low budget may have played to its strengths here. Nothing is overstated: there is no focus on explosions or action, the mushroom clouds are represented through stock footage and there is no great tension. These are replaced by a constant bleakness as the city, its inhabitants and the entire planet decay from the effects of radiation. Yet the cold, factual manner in which director Mick Jackson steers the tone fires home the truth of nuclear war – it is not just global destruction but the annihilation of culture and civilisation. Characters scavenge irradiated sheep carcasses, murder each other for crisps and even lose their grasp on language as a whole.

The research behind Threads is impressive, as increasingly grim realities dawn on the post-nuclear world. Monstrous phenomena follow each other and Hines leaves the viewer with no glimmer of hope whatsoever. There is no soundtrack to the film, representing an apocalyptic silence, though it is punctuated with Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’, a final remnant of pre-nuclear culture. This is the perfect anti-war message, though not an easy film to watch. The reason it is so terrifying is its potential: this could really happen. This Blu-Ray edition brings it even closer to reality whilst maintaining the grimness of the truth.

I don’t think it would be unfair to suggest that Threads is essential viewing. The film is terrifyingly, yet unflinchingly real in every aspect. This is a film that will keep you up at night, especially in our current era of uncertain, international diplomacy. Threads is unsettling in the extreme and may only need to be watched once to stick with you – it’s that powerful.

Ewan Wood |

Drama, War | UK, 1984 | 15 | Blu-ray | Simply Media | 17th December 2018 (UK) | Dir.Mick Jackson | Karen Meagher, Reece Dinsdale, David Brierly, Rita May, Jane Hazlegrove, Ashley Barker

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